Friday, December 16, 2011
"But... I Can Change!"
You've heard the line in response to breaking up with a mate. Or you saw it in a movie. Or maybe you've used it yourself. "I can change," is often a last resort when one knows that someone is unhappy with them. It doesn't really have much meaning. It's a desperate plea that says I will tell you everything you want to hear right now, but within a matter of days, everything will go back to just the way it was. Nothing will have actually changed.
Throughout the season, there have been repeated calls by Habs' fans for the heads of both head coach Jacques Martin and general manager Pierre Gauthier. Gauthier seemed to fire a warning shot at Martin when he canned his assistant coach and close personal friend Perry Pearn early in the season. This was unorthodox, as it is rare an assistant coach is singled out and fired mid-season while the bench boss remains in place. But Gauthier knew something had to happen or he and Martin would be the ones on the outs. Of course, this simple sacrificial lamb didn't satisfy the discontent masses.
"Moving forward, we will start to think outside the box," said Gauthier. I can change.
But what exactly has changed since October 26th? Sure, the team has strung together a few more wins. But with their capped out payroll, certainly they have sufficient talent in place - even with injuries - to win some hockey games. Erik Cole has emerged and led the team's still floundering powerplay. Not that Jacques Martin will ever own up to it being his mistake for keeping Cole off the PP to start the season, nor will he apologize publicly to reporter Jessica Rusnak for telling her to "do her research," when she asked about giving Cole time with the man advantage. But hey, things weren't working out. He, too, can change.
But can he really? Like a bad boyfriend, he seems to quickly slip back into his all too familiar habits. His communication with players seems as sparse as ever, preferring to quietly scribble in his notebook. He continues to be quick to throw the young guys under the bus, whether publicly in press conference or in terms of their ice time. He seems to have no tolerance for any sort of physical brand of hockey. Just when Alexei Emelin was coming out of his shell and becoming a force on the ice, a trade shifts him to his unfamiliar right side on defense, and one bad game sees him sitting in the press box. Back in the line-up last night due only to Raphael Diaz's illness, despite playing a very solid game, a -2 rating that was little fault of his own sees Martin limit him to 12:30 of ice time. And then there's Louis Leblanc, who on 2 occasions was expected to play on the third line with Lars Eller and Mathieu Darche/Travis Moen, but when the game's starting line-up was announced, it was Eller with Darche/Moen and Andrei Kostitsyn. I have no explanation for that. Kostitsyn was playing on a line with Tomas Plekanec and Mike Cammalleri, yet for opening puckdrop, he skates in Leblanc's place on the "third" unit.
What of last night for Leblanc, where he tied the game in the second period by scoring his first NHL goal, even after being dropped to center the fourth line? One would think his sound two-way play and the fact that he had potted one could earn him some more looks. Not the case, as he was benched for almost the whole third period, playing only 4:21 total on the night. The only time he and the fourth line got a shift? When the Habs were putting pressure on the Flyers to try to come back and tie the game up again, with about 10 minutes to play, after the club had earned an offensive zone face-off. Really Jacques? You send your fourth line out for that? It's almost like you were blatantly just trying to prove a point. Setting young guys up for failure, once again.
And what of Mr. Gauthier? The trading of Jaroslav Spacek for Tomas Kaberle may be the final nail in his coffin. This is not unexpected, as the Canadiens and their pro scouting department have a history of ignoring a player's recent performances, hoping they will somehow revert to their prime selves after being dealt to Montreal (we can go back historically for examples since the lockout, like Sergei Samsonov, Georges Laraque, Scott Gomez, and Janne Niinimaa). Kaberle the player is not the problem, of course, and I won't get into how Spacek is playing well on the Hurricanes' PP. But Gauthier has further handicapped a team that already had little flexibility because of numerous big contracts to underperforming supposed stars.
Can he change? Will he find a creative way to rid the team of the Scott Gomez burden, for example? Time will tell. But as of today, the only way I see real change coming about is if Geoff Molson steps forward, calls a spade a spade, and relieves the Gauthier-Martin duo of their responsibilities despite their plea for another chance. That, my friends, is what can reignite the spark in the highly abusive relationship between the Montreal Canadiens and their faithful followers.