I’ve had a good week to let my emotions dwindle, and let cooler heads prevail. Needless to say the players on this season’s edition of the Canadiens gave it a valiant effort all season long. They managed a sixth place finish in the Eastern Conference, while missing one-third of their defensive core for the majority of the season. They also were missing Michael Cammalleri for a good chunk of the first half, and are still looking for their eight million dollar man to show up.
All the while, several questions were answered. Questions that were originally asked after the Eastern Conference final last season, and the trade of playoff hero, goaltender Jaroslav Halak. Carey Price, under probably more pressure this season than any player in the NHL, showed how strong his backbone was, and gave us a season to remember. He was stellar in goal, and was the primary reason why the Habs finished as they did. Short of scoring a few goals, he did everything he could to give the Canadiens a chance to win, night in, and night out.
P.K. Subban started the season in Coach Jacques Martin’s doghouse. After playing himself into the press box, primarily due to some glaring rookie mistakes, Subban manned up, and turned out to be the Canadiens’ most used, and most reliable defenseman. Not to take anything away from the defensive workhorse on this team, Roman Hamrlik, Subban’s 29+ minutes in the playoffs reflected his maturing during the course of the season.
Speaking of “The Hammer”, I’m not his biggest fan, by any stretch. While he has a propensity for ill-advised pinches, he has played an incredible amount of hockey over the past two years while Andrei Markov has been injured, and deserves a ton of credit.
While you can see that I am willing to give the players all the credit in the world, I am still quite critical of two-thirds of the coaching staff. Needless to say that it has become apparent that the Canadiens’ bench has a ton of respect and admiration for assistant coach Kirk Muller, the same cannot be said for defensive coach Perry Pearn and head coach Jacques Martin.
It’s still a mystery to me how Martin can have Pearn coaching his defensemen, when he is a power play specialist. Pearn is an annual fixture at the NHL Coaches Association meetings every year, but never speaks about defense. You can’t assume that breaking down another teams power play strategy makes you a defensive specialist. Pearn had a habit of using the wrong pairing at bad times, and cost the Canadiens their share of victories. Without a proper coach to develop your young defenseman, your team struggles, and that was apparent.
As far as Martin is concerned, where do I start? He has no ability to adjust his strategy during games, and believes that defensive hockey is the answer to everything. He refuses to allow his players to play to their strengths, and that keeps his players stiff. After all, mistakes get you into the press box, unless of course you’re a veteran like Scott Gomez. Martin also could not correct his teams’ inability to make fluid changes, especially during the second period. Whenever his team was furthest from their net, they took fourteen “too many men” penalties during the season. That alone is unacceptable when you have 20+ years of coaching experience.
And finally, let’s look at General Manager Pierre Gauthier. He traded away Ryan O’Byrne for what adds up to nothing, because Coach Martin didn’t have the guts to play him. He sat all season on Andrei Markov’s money after he went on injured reserve. He traded for James Wisniewski when Josh Gorges went down with a knee injury, replacing a defensive blue liner with a more offensive one. He traded for Brent Sopel, a pickup I actually liked, and Paul Mara, a player who he did think fit on this team, and who he won’ resign again this off-season. Instead of Mara, don’t you think giving a kid like Jared Tinordi a bit of experience would have better served his development, even if it was only for a few games?
The players didn’t disappoint us this season, this team’s administration did. A team without an identity can’t win, and that’s just fact. Before Bob Gainey left, he established the identity he wanted for this team. With the acquisition of Gionta, Gomez, and Cammalleri, it was clear he wanted a more offensive team. When he hired Jacques Martin, we knew that just wasn’t going to be in the cards. With the old Ottawa administration (Gauthier, Timmons and Martin) at the helm of this franchise, I don’t expect much to change.
Join me and the gang on Habs Talk Radio for our post-mortum tomorrow night at 9PM EST.