Farewell Michel, Bonjour Boucher

Looking at Michel Therrien’s Questionable Coaching Decisions

Michel Therrien in his famous stance behind the bench (Photo: Eric Bolte, USA TODAY Sports)

After Randy Cunneyworth was practically run out of Montreal since he didn’t speak French, Marc Bergevin found himself in a position to hire a new head coach. The available coaches who spoke French at the time were quite slim. The three popular names who were thrown out there were Bob Hartley, who was available at the time, Marc Crawford who is French-speaking but not a great candidate and Michel Therrien, who had coached the Canadiens from 2000-2003 to an underwhelming 77-77-37 record. It wasn’t all that surprising that Bergevin hired Michel Therrien seeing that he had the most experience and had been in the market before. I understand Bergevin’s decision to hire Therrien seeing that he was the best bilingual option at that time. I knew from day one, that this was a ridiculous hire.

When Carey Price went down due to injury on November 25th, the big question was to see if Michel Therrien could keep a “winning record” without his star goaltender. It seemed that wasn’t the case as they went into one of the worst slumps in team history. Montreal’s month of December was horrific. Out of their 10 road games that went into the start of January, the team finished with a 2-8-0 record, which included 22 goals for, 33 goals against and an atrocious power play that went 3-30 (10%). The team started 2016 off with a bang, defeating their arch rivals the Boston Bruins 5-1 at Gillette Stadium for the Winter Classic. With that victory, it looked as if the Canadiens were ready to start the new year on a good note. However, that wasn’t the case. On their second game of 2016, the team fell 4-3 to the Philadelphia Flyers and the next day, the Habs squeezed out a 2-1 win over the New Jersey Devils. Following that win, the Canadiens lost yet another game to the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday night at the Bell Centre. On December 2nd, the Canadiens had an 11-point lead in the Atlantic. Since then, they have won only four games. Montreal has now lost 14 of their last 18 games. In those 18 games, the Canadiens have scored a mere 31 goals. The Habs are 13-15-3 without Price and are currently at a putrid 76-point pace (nowhere near a playoff spot). Over the past three seasons, the Canadiens are now 31-29-10 without Price. My question is this: at what point do Therrien supporters realize that his “winning record” has been Price all along? Therrien has been riding Price’s coattails since day one. Based on the team’s recent play, I believe it is time for Michel Therrien to go.

Inability to develop young players

Michel Therrien, at any level, has never been able to develop a young player. You could argue that Therrien developed Brendan Gallagher extremely well but let’s be honest, Gallagher would succeed under any coach. Therrien takes young, dynamic and creative talent, and throws it away. Let’s start with Lars Eller. Eller, drafted by the St. Louis Blues in 2007, was every scout’s dream. He had it all: speed, size, hands, a good shot and a great attitude. The Denmark native was drafted 13th overall and was envisioned to be the “big number one centre” that any team could succeed with. It’s hard to find a player who had the “whole package” like Lars Eller once did. Eller, now age 26, looks completely lost when on the ice. Up until now, his entire career has been spent as Montreal’s third line centre. Therrien tasked him with the toughest defensive assignments on the team, little to no time on the man-advantage and placed fourth liners with no skill whatsoever on his flanks. Eller, who had an offensive upside, had only a short glimpse of a top-6 role with the Habs. He centred Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallgher the year of the lockout. In that short-lived experience, Eller had six points in seven games. That line clicked really well, but with one sup-par game, Therrien called out Lars Eller and on many occasians afterwards. He would bench or even scratch him over the slightest misstep.

After ruining Lars Eller, it seems that Therrien is ready to do the same to Galchenyuk. After playing three years on the wing, Marc Bergevin finally made the announcement that Alex Galchenyuk would be playing his natural position at centre. Many were relieved to hear this, especially since the Canadiens were starved for offense the year before. Alex Galchenyuk’s performance at centre this year has been quite impressive. Currently Montreal’s #2 centre, Galchenyuk has 10 goals, 17 assists for 27 points in 43 games played. Although he is serving as the #2 centre role, his ice time indicates otherwise. Galchenyuk often finishes games with barely 15 minutes of ice time per game. While the coach’s favourites such as Torrey Mitchell, Paul Byron, David Desharnais and Dale Weise receive more ice time than Galchenyuk on any given night. It’s incredibly infuriating that Alex Galchenyuk has been receiving the same amount of ice time since he was a rookie. Furthermore, he has surpassed 17 minutes a game only a few times this season.

Galchenyuk and Eller are just a couple of examples. It doesn’t stop there. The overuse of defencemen Alexei Emelin and Tom Gilbert is quite puzzling, especially when there are better, younger and more skilled defencemen in Greg Pateryn and Jarred Tinordi who only get the chance to play when an injury occurs.

Post-game excuses

There is a fairly large sign in the Canadiens locker room that says Pas D’excuses/No excuses. The concept seems pretty simple right? But I’m starting to wonder if that sign only applies to the players and not the coaching staff. Because after every single loss, Therrien is always ready to spew out the excuses.

  • Let’s start with his open criticism of goaltenders Mike Condon and Dustin Tokarski. If a coach wants to overcome a losing record and a team’s struggles, publicly criticizing his two young netminders is not the way to do it.
  • Michel Therrien gave Alex Galchenyuk the oppourtunity to play with Max Pacioretty on his wing. But after only one night, that line struggled to find chemistry. When Therrien was asked about Galchenyuk’s play, he responded by saying, “he had a tough night” over and over again. Chemistry between players doesn’t happen within one game; it takes time.
  • After a horrific game versus the Philadelphia Flyers, Michel Therrien claimed that his players were “still too focused on The Winter Classic”, and he believed that was the reason they lost.
  • And finally, after a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins Saturday night at the Bell Centre, when asked about the team’s inability to score, he responded by saying ” there are a lot of good goalies in the league” and that a lot of his players were “intimidated by the Penguins”.

The System

Michel Therrien’s “defensive system” is hardly defensive, let alone a system. Since his arrival, he has been forcing skilled players to buy into this grinding system. Therrien’s “defensive system” consists of flipping the puck off the glass, playing dump and chase and providing a passive forecheck. His system lacks every aspect of creativity. In episodes of 24CH, his speeches during the intermission have gone a little something like this:

“Alright, we’re trying to be fancy, we’re trying to be cute, and were trying to be the team that we’re not. It doesn’t work that way and first of all, it’s not us. You bring the puck wide, you put pucks at the net. It’s gonna be a rebound, make sure you’re there. You’re fancy, you’re fancy, you’re fancy, there’s no puck support! North South Quick! You don’t try to slow down the game, we wanna go there as quick as we can! Chip and chase! You chip, and then you chase. We are a grinding team! Accept it! Cause if you we don’t? Then we won’t have success. Accept it, do it!” 

It is not healthy to force such skilled players such as Alex Galchenyuk, Max Pacioretty, Lars Eller, Sven Andrighetto, Tomas Plekanec, Nathan Beaulieu and P.K. Subban into a grinding role. Those players need room to be creative and dynamic.

Favourtism

It’s overtly obvious that Therrien picks favourites and accommodates certain players more than others. One of Therrien’s “go-to guys” is  the over-used pivot, David Desharnais. At the start of the season, all lines were contributing evenly in any given game. And after three years of playing with Max Pacioretty, Desharnais was demoted to third line centre, a position that he succeeded in. He was perfect in an exploitation role, part of the bottom six forwards. But when Desharnais went through a rough patch (zero points in six games averaging over 17 minutes a game) he was promoted to the first line to play alongside Pacioretty. Therrien mentioned that he needed to “get Davey going”. That approach is understandable, but it shouldn’t apply only to coach favourites. When Alex Galchenyuk struggled last season and this season, Galchenyuk was taken off the power play and was given fourth line minutes and stapled to the bench. It is quite clear that Therrien picks favourites. Often, it even costs the team.

Time’s up

Michel Therrien, I believe, has done all he can do with the team. I knew from day one that he was a rebuild coach, not a long-term coach who can bring the team a cup. The Canadiens have approximately a two-to-three year window before Carey Price, Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban are beyond their prime. If the Canadiens are actually looking to win a Stanley Cup and go further than the second round, they are going to need a long term tactician as the bench boss.

Finding a replacement coach

Former Lightning head coach Guy Boucher has accepted the same job with Swiss League team SC Bern. Tampa Bay fired him last March with the team sporting a 13-18-1 record in the lockout-shortened NHL season.

Photo: Paul Chiasson, Canadian Press

If you follow me on twitter, you’re probably well aware that I am a big fan of Guy Boucher. I believe that if hired, he could take the team to the next level. Guy Boucher did wonders with the Hamilton Bulldogs in 2009. Despite a very large number of Hamilton’s roster players being called up by the Habs that season, Guy Boucher coached that Bulldogs team to a 57-17-11 record for a total of 115 points. Later, he was named Coach of the Year and received The Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award. After turning down a head coaching position with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Boucher was offered a job as head coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. With that, Guy Boucher took a sup-par Tampa Bay Lightning roster (aside from Stamkos) to game seven of the conference finals.

There are many complaints about a “defensive system” with Boucher. However, it must be noted that there are defensive systems that actually have a structured breakout along with the ability to succesfully create scoring chances, which is something Michel Therrien’s dump and chase, passive forecheck system does not have. To see what Boucher did with a sup-par Tampa Bay squad makes me wonder what he could do with a contending roster that the Habs currently have. It also makes me wonder why Michel Therrien hasn’t been able to take the Habs anywhere near the Stanley Cup. The overused narrative that the Habs have been a contender every year because they’ve made the playoffs gets annoying after a while. At some point, results are needed. Guy Boucher is an experienced, smart and innovative coach who knows the players and would  be able to use them effectively. This is a defining moment in Bergevin’s career as general manager. If Bergevin is as smart as some claim him to be, he would put his close friendship with Therrien aside and do what’s best for the team by relieving Therrien of his duties.

If you’ve enjoyed this, be sure to follow me on twitter: https://twitter.com/Patrick__Tallon

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2 Responses to Farewell Michel, Bonjour Boucher

  1. Nice post Patrick!
    I was just watching the 2009 Penguins cup video last night, Therrien had done a good job in 2008 but much like you said with les Habitants, he hit a point where he had done all he could for the team.
    Like the Penguins this year too, once Sidney got some room to be creative, look at the results

    Geoff Stephen February 4, 2016 at 11:54 am Reply
  2. I would love to see Boucher as the next Habs coach. Facts are Therrien does little to develop the young players and has his favourites. He often is out coached and based on what has been happening lately, he has lost the room and the team. Time to move on Mr. Bergevin, get it done hire Boucher and get rid of Sylvain Lefebvre as well he as useless in St. John’s as he was in Hamiltion

    rick sanders February 20, 2016 at 1:31 pm Reply

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