The Canadiens’ Coaching Conundrum

So how ’bout them Habs? This past season wasn’t the best for the Canadiens and their fans, but the hopes are that next season will make this one a distant memory. After an extremely disappointing 2015-16 campaign, Habs fans are left wondering if things will change heading into next season. The team struggled mightily from late November on, and while the ship was rapidly sinking, it seemed that the team management and coaching staff just stood around waiting to submerge.

As the painful season finally came to an end, general manager, Marc Bergevin made a point of saying that his head coach wouldn’t be let go. The move baffled the majority of Habs fans, though the GM’s intentions were very clear. Bergevin wanted Michel Therrien to coach the team in the coming season, whether or not there would be other options available over the summer. As the summer is now upon us, it has become clear that there are (or have been) some stellar candidates for coaching jobs available. Unfortunately for the many anti-Therrien Habs supporters, these eligible coaches won’t even be talking to the Canadiens about head coaching positions.

In a move that impressed many, the Habs were able to lure former player and coach, Kirk Muller back into an assistant coaching position. While the majority of the fanbase is relieved that Therrien will be getting some much-needed help (especially on special teams), they still wish that a head coaching change would have come to shake up the direction of their beloved team.

The Nature of the League

If you take a look at coach Therrien’s track record in his second stint with the Habs, you’ll likely be surprised at how well he has done in recent years (minus last year, of course). Therrien has been able to take teams to the top of the league standings and to the playoffs in three of his four seasons with the team since his return. This, however, doesn’t excuse the year that just was. In the NHL, most coaches are judged based on their most recent season. Team management groups around the league fire coaches for having years like the one that Therrien and the Habs had this year despite the coach’s history.

Sure, the coach had a ridiculous amount of injuries to deal with this past season, but his job is to do the best with what he is given, and this wasn’t the case with the Habs. Despite the injuries and open roster spots, the coach continued with his questionable decisions with regards to playing time, lines and ‘the system’. In today’s NHL, this should (and usually would) be grounds for termination. This isn’t the case for Therrien though, as he still has the management’s confidence.

The most frustrating fact about this entire situation is that there were (and still are) some very prominent free-agent coaches waiting for calls from clubs. Some of the available (or recently signed) coaches even speak French! The likes of Guy Boucher, Bruce Boudreau and Bob Hartley (among others) were all at one point available. Despite the abundance of eligible coaches, the Habs stuck with Therrien.

The question is, would a different coach have come with different results. Had Boucher been the Habs’ coach, would we have seen the team make the playoffs? Not necessarily. That said, it can be presumed that a different coach would have taken a little more action when, as alluded to before, the ship started to rapidly sink.

The Future Is Bright…er For the Canadiens

The 2016-17 season is already showing signs of promise for the bleu-blanc-rouge. The team will have their star goalie back in the lineup, they’ll have a new associate coach whose strength is on special teams, and they’ll have a much-needed clean slate. The Muller addition helps the team immediately and also puts some extra heat on coach Therrien’s behind. Muller has had experience as a head coach in the NHL, which can’t be said of J.J. Daigneault, Clément Jodoin or Dan Lacroix (the current assistant coaches). Now, with Muller in the mix, Therrien may (or at least should) feel a little bit of extra pressure.

Alas, many Habs fans are still calling for the coach’s head. The team strategy throughout the regular season was to do nothing and hope that everything worked out, which didn’t exactly work. So far, Bergevin and his management team are proving that they’re being much more proactive as the offseason is now upon us. At least now there’s someone waiting in the wings in case Therrien can’t pull his group together in the first few weeks of the coming season. Though Habs fans haven’t exactly got what they wanted thus far this summer, the Muller hiring and a sign or two at free-agency could make all the Therrien nonsense forgotten. When it comes down to it, if Michel Therrien can’t coach this team to some success with a healthy lineup, there will be changes.