Thursday, June 4, 2009

Jacques Martin Becomes Bench Boss in Montreal

There is certainly no shortage of opinions regarding the hiring of Jacques Martin as the twenty-ninth Head Coach in Montreal Canadiens history. When General Manager Bob Gainey made the announcement at a press conference on Monday, many eyebrows were raised among hockey analysts and fans around the hockey world. Some observers believe the Habs are headed for a boring, defensive style brand of hockey, while others are once again planning a June parade next year in Montreal.

The main criterion in hiring a new coach for the Canadiens has been filled; a French speaking coach was a priority. While the media may be happy to have French press conferences, the main stars in Montreal are Russian, with a mix of French speaking players, some English Canadians, Americans and if rumours are true, a possible Russian Captain next year. What language will be spoken in the dressing room? Jacques Martin is a very experienced coach but his playoff record is questionable. In a city that is desperate for another Stanley Cup to validate their feelings of hockey supremacy, is he the right choice? As Montreal Gazette Legend Red Fischer wrote, “What was the rush” in hiring a new coach while team owner George Gillette examines his assets and a possible sale of the team.

Been Down this Road Before

Excluding Bob Gainey, nine of the last ten coaches in Montreal have been French speaking. Pat Burns is the only exception in a list that includes Mario Tremblay, Alain Vigneault, Michel Therrien and Claude Julien to name a few. Jacques Demers and Jean Perron coached the last two Stanley Cup winners in Montreal but that had more to do with Patrick Roy then a system put in place by the coach.

Stanley Cup winners Bob Hartley and Marc Crawford were passed over, both of whom are also bilingual, and how many other AHL coaches like Washington's Bruce Boudreau or Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma were not interviewed for the simple fact that they are English? What becomes of Gainey's assistant and former Hamilton Bulldogs coach Don Lever? He has all the credentials to be a fine NHL coach but apparently not in Montreal. Will he be an assistant to Martin or will he be forced to move on knowing their is absolutely no opportunity for advancement in the Canadiens organization?

Jacques Martin’s Teams Fall short in Cup Hunt

Not taking anything away from the regular season success the St. Pascal, Ontario native has had but Martin’s playoff record is not a stellar one. His only trip to the Eastern Conference Final came in Ottawa during the 2002-2003 season and he has reached the second round twice, once in Ottawa in 1997-98 and in 1987-88 with the St. Louis Blues. His teams have exited in the first round six times and he has failed to make the playoffs four times, most recently missing the playoffs three years in a row with the Florida Panthers. In the past, he has had players like Daniel Alfredsson, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, and Alexi Yashin in Ottawa. In Florida, he held onto Jay Bouwmeester at the trade deadline but failed to make the playoffs. He inherits a team in Montreal with far fewer stars then on his past teams and if not for implementing a boring, defensive “trap” style of hockey, how will he change his playoff fortunes in Montreal?

Bouwmeester Rumours Start

After the hiring, it only took a few minutes for the Bouwmeester to Montreal rumours to begin. In life, you can never say never, but if Martin was not able to sign Bouwmeester to a long-term contract during his four years as General Manager in Florida, why is it expected that the up and coming defenseman will follow Martin to Montreal? A free agent July 1, Bouwmeester made $4.875 million last season and is due a sizable raise even in the current economic climate. The third overall pick in the 2002 draft, Bouwmeester will not land in Montreal in my opinion.

The Canadiens already have Andrei Markov and Roman Hamrlik signed through the end of the 2010-2011 season at $5.75 million per year for Markov and $5.5 million for Hamrlik. Adding another big contract to Bouwmeester will commit $15-17 million of cap space for three defensemen; an unwise move considering the team has $23 million in cap space available next season and needs to fill fifteen spots on their roster. Currently, Andrei Kostitsyn is the highest paid forward under contract at $3.25 million and goaltenders Carey Price and Jaroslav Halak will be restricted free agents after next season and if they perform and progress as expected, they too will earn a raise from their current contracts of $2.2 million for Price and $775,000 for Halak.
Focus Shifts to Gainey

General Manager Bob Gainey has filled his vacant coaching spot but now the focus shifts to signing players and re-shaping a team that floundered down the stretch under Guy Carbonneau and Gainey. This will be a critical summer for Montreal's GM; he has made several coaching changes and the results have been the same; early exits from the playoffs.

In his introductory press conference, Martin said, “I really believe that you need some star players to be effective.”

If Alex Kovalev returns to the Canadiens as their “star player”, his lacklustre play and 65 points will not be enough to satisfy the fans or his new coach. Montreal requires an extreme makeover or they will be on the outside looking in come playoff time next year. Have a great sports day everyone.

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