My colleague, Tyler Shea, has written a thoughtful piece about why he feels the Habs should tank their season. You can find this article here.
I, however, have not felt that they should tank if at all possible, and have been vocal about it everywhere but in these pages. So I offer a counterpoint to his opinion, with due respect to him and his excellent article.
Let me begin with a point made with which I do agree: goaltending.
I agree that Carey Price, who has been plagued with an injury for most of the season, and out of the lineup on the IR list since November 25th, should be shut down for the remainder of the season – and for exactly the reasons Tyler outlined. It’s clear that there is something beyond just rest, and that should be taken care of now rather than later.
It was important to keep him rested while the team was doing well, and the skills of Mike Condon more than gave the players, management, and fans the confidence needed to play well.
But now that the Habs have slid to 19th place in the league, and out of a playoff spot with 28 games to go, it isn’t as urgent for Price to return. Whatever has gone wrong with the team is not about goaltending. Maybe management wanted to see if Price could return and offer his world-class goaltending for a playoff run. Thing is, no longer is that guaranteed.
It’s likely Price would have saved more goals than Condon and Ben Scrivens have, but not to make that much of a difference. Let’s face it: goals scored are what wins games. And the Canadiens haven’t been doing a whole lot of that of late.
But I don’t believe tanking is the answer. And while Tyler’s analysis is sound, and makes sense insofar as hockey strategy, trades, acquisitions, and the business end of it, mine is more of an emotional viewpoint.
Tyler aptly describes the record-breaking season beginning our team experienced. In franchise history, they had never gone without a loss for that many games, and they made it to 9-0-0 before their first defeat.
Still, they continued dominant play until December, when defeat after defeat, poor showing after poor showing threw the team into a slump.
We all questioned what might be going wrong.
The team has been plagued with injuries, whereas last season it was not that way at all (we were curiously lucky not to have many players hurt at all). I’m not saying that injuries are an excuse, many other teams deal with multiple injured players and still go on to win.
But it does throw the lines into chaos. And that’s the next point: coaching.
Many have criticized Michel Therrien angrily, calling for his firing; but the “Fire Therrien” battle cry has been in vogue since he came back to Montreal, so it isn’t just this season.
I have held off doing that. I know that to a certain degree, Michel Therrien should be held to account for his coaching. His baffling fixation with David Desharnais is one reason. Using him in the most ineffective ways and overplaying him to the detriment of stronger players on the bench are reasons Therrien’s abilities can be called into question.
His penchant to throw lines into a blender and toss out the results willy-nilly, with no rhyme or reason, and even breaking up successful lines in the middle of a game just shows that he’s out of touch with what another coach might see – and fix. Add the injuries happening more rapidly, the man has more to juggle and doesn’t always come up with the right moves regarding lines.
While there are those who argue that Therrien’s got a defensive coaching style, I offer this: how can he coach defensively when the team isn’t scoring to begin with? This season’s multi-goal games negate the “sits on a lead” coaching style purported to be Therrien’s hallmark.
See, in the end it’s the guys on the ice. It’s the players who came out like beasts in the beginning of the season – scoring like there was no tomorrow, every game, and not sitting on leads or even letting up when there was a blowout – who have turned into almost-unrecognizable shadows of their early-season selves.
I refer you to Tyler’s 3rd paragraph. He nicely summarizes the excitement of watching Max Pacioretty, Lars Eller, P.K. Subban, Brendan Gallagher, Alex Galchenyuk. But nothing has changed – those guys are still with the team, but not in the way they were in October and November. Where are those players?
They’re not crashing the net the way they used to; they’ve been shooting wildly much of the time, without much focus. And if they have scored, often it’s a fluke or a bounce going their way.
That’s not the coach. That’s the players.
What could have affected every single player so intensely to have changed their drive, their skills, their ability to win games more often than not?
The thing is, no one knows. We’re not in the dressing room, in the meetings, at practices, or in their heads. And it wasn’t one or two players either; the whole team stopped performing.
So yes, I can understand the viewpoint that tanking would bring a the possibility of a better draft pick to improve the team, but that is no guarantee.
I will say this, however: even if they did tank in order for that stellar draft pick, chances are they would not lose every game, just as they won’t win every one. Tanking may or may not land them in an optimal spot to pick in the top 5. They might fall just short of that.
And nothing is guaranteed; I don’t believe the Habs could lose every game, and fall below every other team in order to get Auston Matthews – the prime choice of every fan hoping for a tanked season, and likely to go first overall.
I’m going to address the more emotional side of things. I’ve covered this in a previous piece, but I’ll repeat it here in context.
The Canadiens, to a man, are professionals. Not just because they play pro hockey, but because they hold themselves in that regard. I don’t believe that any professional willingly, knowingly, and purposefully stops performing at their job if they can continue to try and improve.
I’m interested in knowing what it looks like to “tank on purpose.” To me, it’s like a fighter throwing a match, and it isn’t a very worthy thing to do.
Tyler brings up a very stark picture: the Canadiens would have to win 75% of their remaining games to get into playoffs, and if they are struggling down the road, playoffs would be a painful, short-lived experience. Is it doable? That’s anyone’s guess. I’m a never-say-die fan.
The Habs won two afternoon games this past weekend, and it was pretty clear that their confidence is cautiously boosted. Their smiles, their obvious relief, and their celebrations – of goals, and of the wins – were visible.
Who’s to say they won’t get into playoffs? Who’s to say they wouldn’t get past round 1?
None of us has the crystal ball, none of us has the answers.
These are players with heart. With professionalism, with work ethic and love for the game, the city, their teammates, and their fans so profound it overflows.
How could any of us expect them to throw a match, not get a goal, not skate to the best of his ability?
At press conferences after a loss – especially during the slump – each player blamed himself. Each took it hard. Max Pacioretty showed his frustration more than once.
I don’t believe any one of them could look himself in the mirror knowing that he’d thrown the season in order to get a draft pick who, let’s face it, may or may not help things along.
I believe the answer to this season lies behind the scenes, with management, and acquisitions.
I do believe that lining up the players that are upcoming UFA, shopping those who have trade value, and looking to the market are things Marc Bergevin must do. I’d hate to lose Dale Weise or Tomas Fleischmann, but if their value brought in stronger talent, I’d be okay with that. Hockey is a business after all. And emotional ties to players have to dissipate once the deed is done (though I know many who still haven’t gotten over the Brandon Prust trade).
I believe that planning for the end of the season – whenever and however that may happen – is what will help the team moving forward.
Tanking is something they may inadvertently do anyway; two games isn’t a Comeback – yet.
But I don’t think somehow stacking the deck against them would bode well for their self-worth or self-respect, and that is the core of any professional; that is what makes them tick and makes them the players we count on to bring our team to the top again.
I don’t know if they could tank the season on purpose and come back in 2016-17 with the same outlook.
As a fan, I could never cheer for a loss, much less a tanked season. I call myself an unapologetic Habs apologist, always the last to defend them, never critical, but always realistic. The slump has been depressing. But I’ve never lost hope, demonstrated disgust, or anger, or vowed never to watch another game. Those are emotions I cannot muster, and I know many many fans who feel the same way.
Could anyone actually watch the next 28 games and cheer for the other team? Our motto on this very site, “We bleed bleu, blanc, rouge”, shows the depth of our affinity for the Canadiens. Could you truly be able to hope every game ends with a Habs loss? How does that make this fun anymore?
So, tanking is an iffy proposition at best – and not, in my opinion, the honorable choice.
To you who have stuck with me for this counterpoint, I suggest the following:
And most of all:
For those fans who are unready, unwilling, and unable to embrace a tank, remember this:
Go Habs GO!