On February 15, 2009, the Pittsburg Penguins—fresh off a Stanley Cup Appearance in 2008 and in the 4th year of Sidney Crosby’s career—were struggling to make the play-offs under the guidance of Michel Therrien, so the Penguins fired Therrien and hired Dan Blysma. The Penguins went on to go 18-3-4 for the rest of the regular season, on to the Stanley Cup Finals again, and won the Stanley Cup under Blysma.
Seven years later, Michel Therrien is one again leading a team with high expectations, and once again that team is struggling as we head into the All-Star break, and the “Fire Therrien” rumblings are picking up.
There are some differences, but the situations are eerily similar. The Montreal Canadiens, Therrien’s current team, did not make the Stanley Cup Finals last year; however, they do have the reigning MVP, Most Outstanding Player, and Vezina trophy winner on their roster, Carey Price. I’d argue that puts the expectations roughly equivalent to what Therrien and the Penguins were facing back in 08-09.
If you have the best goalie, who also happens to be the best player in the NHL, and especially in Montreal, people are going to expect you to compete for a Stanley Cup. And boy, did that look like the case at the beginning of the season. The Habs started off like gangbusters, winning their first 9 games before losing two games on October, 27th and 29th.
Since the 29th, sitting at 9-2-0, the Canadiens have gone 13-18-2 and dropped from 1st in the NHL to 5th in their division. 1st in the league to 13th overall. That, readers, is bad.
So what happened on the 29th? Carey Price first suffered a lower body injury. Price was able to come back for a couple games after that initial injury, but affectively, Price has been out since that October 29th game versus the Edmonton Oilers, and that has killed the Habs.
Price started off this season where he left off from last year. He went 10-2-0 with a .934 save percentage and a 2.06 GAA, and obviously springboarded Montreal to that crazy start to the season. With Price in the net, the Habs looked like legit Stanley Cup contenders. Without him, their Coach might get fired.
Now, some will say that the Price injury should save Therrien’s job. How can you fire a guy when he doesn’t have his greatest asset with him? And I guess that makes sense at first glance. After all, it’s not Therrien’s fault that the rest of the Canadiens’ personnel isn’t good enough to make up for losing the Vezina and Hart winner; that would fall on GM Marc Bergevin. But, 1) Bergevin isn’t going to fire himself, and 2) the Canadiens’ personnel sans-Price should be good enough to at least hold position.
Montreal’s roster includes Max Pacioretty, Tomas Plekanec, Alexei Emelin, Andrei Markov and PK Subban. These five players have all played for their respective country in the Olympics; Markov and Subban have been NHL All-Stars; Subban has won the Norris. The Habs also have Alex Galchenyuk, the NHL’s 2012 3rd Overall draft pick, in their line-up. Do you know how many teams would love to have five Olympians on their team? How about two major NHL Award winners (Pacioretty has also won the Masterson trophy)? If you’re telling me these guys can’t help an NHL roster stay afloat while their best player is on the IR, then I would like to know which players should be.
Look, obviously losing Carey Price is huge; he’s the best player in the NHL. But, how are these guys not getting the job done, at least minimally?
Now, we could say, “well, those players aren’t playing well,” or “they’re not trying hard enough,” but even if that’s true, is it not the Coach’s job to get them to play well? Or try harder? Yes the players themselves have to shoulder some of the blame, but what the heck is the Coach’s job, if not getting his players to perform?
Maybe it’s because I am a Coach, so I put a lot of consequence in our actions, but in a time where we are giving so much credit to guys like Mike Babcock for turning the Toronto Maple Leafs around, and Joel Quenneville for managing the stars of the Chicago Blackhawks, how can we not also give Therrien some flak for not getting his players to perform in the absence of their star goalie?
The entire job of a Head Coach is to put his players in positions to perform. When the players are not performing, the Coach has two questions he must ask himself.
- Why are they not performing?
- What can I do to get them to perform?
From there, the job is…well, difficult. But it’s your job nonetheless and you knew that when you signed on for the job. Trust me; I know that while it may be easy to figure out where a player can improve, it is extremely difficult to decide an implementation plan to get that player to actually improve. But I also know that’s the job. That’s why we get up in the morning, so to speak.
Looking at the Habs, they need to score more. Carey Price in net or not, you have to score more than (roughly) two goals a game to win in the NHL. Mike Condon, Price’s replacement, has a GAA of 2.39. That’s pretty freaking good! If you can’t win with those numbers, you’re not scoring enough. So, as a Coach, how do you get your guys to score more?
Well, a variety of ways, really. Does your Powerplay need tinkering? Your offensive zone face-offs? Forecheck? Set-plays?
Is your breakout effective? Are you getting out of your zone efficiently enough and spending enough time in the offensive zone? Do you possess the puck as you enter the offensive zone, or are you chasing a dump in?
Are the guys you’re playing turning the puck over too much? Are there some guys who aren’t playing that much who maybe deserve to be on the ice more? Are you relying on the wrong players?
Are you, in entirety, putting your players in the best position for them to succeed?
You look at Montreal, and clearly, none of this is happening.
PK Subban unleashed a cuss-filled tirade after a 3-1 loss to the Pittsburg Penguins on January 9, 2016 and I’m telling you right now, there’s no way he says the things he says if everyone is happy with the process in the Habs locker room.
Overall, as he settled down during the interview, PK did a good job of putting the onus on the players, but when he was real heated at the beginning, he mentioned the word “job,” as in, it’s not my job to do x.
“It’s not my job,” when invoked by professional athletes means that players aren’t doing their jobs.
If you asked me, “why aren’t you scoring on the power play?” and I responded with “it’s not my job to score on the power play,” that means I think my power play players aren’t doing their job.
When players think other players aren’t doing their job, it unquestionably means they believe their Coach isn’t making said players do their job.
If their Coach isn’t making said players do their job, then the Coach isn’t doing his job; and that’s trouble. Big trouble.
You know how $#!+ flows downhill? Well blame flies upwards in sports. If players are upset at all with their teammates, the blame will eventually lead to the Head Coach.
Same way as when you were a kid: if you and your sibling were arguing and your parents told you to knock it off, what would you immediately say?
Immediately, your focus changes from your sibling to who was bugging you to your parents who are enabling the bugging. That’s how it works in sports.
If I’m ticked at a teammate for not working hard enough, I’m more ticked if my Coach keeps putting him on the ice. And PK intimated that these are the conditions, now, in Montreal. That’s not a good look for Michel Therrien., and he has to accept that part of the blame. Without Carey Price in their net, the Montreal Canadiens have been failing to do their jobs, and at the end of the day, that means the Head Coach has been failing to do his, which might mean another mid-season replacement for Michel Therrien.