Thursday, December 1, 2011

Are Jacques Martin's Days Numbered?

In what has been a bumpy ride of an early season for Habs fans, it has been a turbulent week league-wide for NHL head coaches. It started with Bruce Boudreau being let go by the Washington Capitals, largely due to a possible rift between him and star forward Alexander Ovechkin. Before the ink was dry on Dale Hunter's contract as the new Caps bench boss, the Carolina Hurricanes fired Paul Maurice to replace him with former Canadiens' assistant coach Kirk Muller.

But if that wasn't enough, shortly after the Anaheim Ducks handed a big loss to your Montreal Canadiens, their disappointing start cost head coach Randy Carlyle his job, returning Bruce Boudreau to bench boss of a National Hockey League club after only a couple of days.

Yet, despite repeated fan calls for Jacques Martin's head, he remains in charge of our team. Let's take a look at the record of these coaches this season:

Bruce Boudreau (Washington Capitals) - 12-9-1 in 22 GP (25 Pts)
Jacques Martin (Montreal Canadiens) - 10-11-4 in 25 GP (24 Pts)
Paul Maurice (Carolina Hurricanes) - 8-13-4 in 25 GP (20 Pts)
Randy Carlyle (Anaheim Ducks) - 7-13-4 in 24 GP (18 Pts)

But of course, a coaching decision shouldn't be made based on just 25 games. So how about these guys' records over their current tenure with their respective clubs prior to this year?

Bruce Boudreau (Washington Capitals) - 189-79-39 in 307 GP for a .705 win % (+ 2 playoff rounds won)
Randy Carlyle (Anaheim Ducks) - 266-168-57 in 492 GP for a .611 win % (+ 7 playoff rounds won, incl a Stanley Cup)
Jacques Martin (Montreal Canadiens) - 83-63-18 in 164 GP for a .568 win % (+2 playoff rounds won)
Paul Maurice (Carolina Hurricanes) - 108-87-26 in 221 GP for a .554 win % (+ 2 playoff rounds won)

Certainly, neither this season nor during their tenure do Jacques Martin's statistics jump out as significantly better than those of his colleagues. Now, I hear what you're saying. Montreal doesn't have the stacked roster that Boudreau gets to work with in Washington. The Canadiens don't have a Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, or Eric Staal leading their forces. That's fine and dandy. But drawing a parallel to the movie Moneyball, a coach without those assets must make the best of the position they are in. And THIS is where Jacques Martin has failed.

The Habs are not a "disadvantaged" team. They have the luxury have spending pretty well right up to the cap every year, and whether you like Pierre Gauthier's moves or not (disclaimer: I'm on the NOT side), he has brought in established talent that has been successful in other markets by spending all that he can.

But the Canadiens also haven't had the luxury of a top draft pick in years. Could they have done better than the guys they chose? Sure. Everyone will be quick to point out David Fischer over Claude Giroux, amongst other goof-ups. But when you're drafting outside the top 8 or 10, the entry draft is somewhat of a crapshoot where some gambles pay off and others do not.

The point here is that Martin has been given plenty of tools to ice a winning roster. He's had some fine young talent (P.K. Subban, Max Pacioretty, Carey Price, etc.) and a solid veteran leadership core. Through line-juggling, favoritism, and poor communication with is players, however, he has seen repeated criticisms for unexplained decisions and a lack of understanding between he and his skaters. Martin is an emotionless old hockey mind who doesn't seem to like to adapt his strategies and thought processes. He has a good understanding of the sport, and likes to rationally stick to his guns. This has translated to over-playing veterans (and frequently the same "safe," "responsible" types) and a mistrust towards new players, whether they be rookies, or has recently seen with Erik Cole, simply players new to the organization. It is downright strange that Martin never addresses players after calling a timeout. Fortunately, he had Kirk Muller and now, in the post-Perry Pearn days, Randy Cunneyworth, to do it for him.

But the head-scratching personnel moves (the benching, the combinations, the d-men at forward, etc.) have gotten to be too much. On paper, there is no doubt that with a slightly healthier defense, your Montreal Canadiens should be a playoff team. If Martin can't weather the storm, and/or the return of Andrei Markov doesn't provide the anticipated kick to the team's rear end, he and Mr. Gauthier should both start cleaning out their desks. Yes, Geoff Molson has remained relatively quiet on the issues the team is facing, but if a near capped out team can't earn him the significant revenues that come along with a post-season run this year, I have no doubt he will move to action. And maybe - just maybe - the Canadiens will finally add a star from this year's draft along the way. Brighter days are ahead, Habs fans, as the Gauthier-Martin era is undoubtedly coming to a close. Let's just hope there is already a security block in place preventing Gauthier from making any bold moves of dealing youth for short-term fixes to try to save his job.

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