It always happens sooner or later, every hockey season in Montreal. The panic has set in. As of February 8th, the Montreal Canadiens have lost four games in a row, the latest against the weakest team in the league, the Colorado Avalanche. I'm reluctant to ask the question, because Michel Therrien is the coach I have enjoyed watching the most in the last few years. His interviews and post-game scrums are always funny, win or lose—he is, in my eyes, very entertaining. However, ownership does not care about entertainment, they care about only one thing: a winning record. So, whether it's listening to sports radio or watching the last game's performance, I have to ask myself: is it time?
Image source: CBC
Opinions on Michel Therrien have always been a subject of discussion on Montreal radio and blog sites, particularly when the team is not reaching its maximum potential. This time however, I do think that the situation is a little different. Although this latest stint as coach has seen Therrien lead the team for five years, the team is now slumping. Carey Price looks unmotivated, and several changes were made in the off-season. I think the Habs are a few players short of great team, most notably a top line center and top pairing defensemen. A Stanley Cup is not won in February, but the team should still be playing better.
Therrien’s first stint with the Montreal Canadiens came in the 2000-2001 season, replacing coach Alain Vigneault (who has since moved on to coach the New York Rangers). That edition of the Canadiens was terrible as they were rebuilding after many years under General Manager Réjean Houle. In Therrien’s second season with the Habs, he took a team that had Centers Yannick Perrault and an aging, soon to be retired Doug Gimour to the second round of the playoffs coming close to beating the Carolina Hurricanes (who then made it to the Stanley Cup's finals). It is a very honest effort considering the lack of offensive "punch" and a defensive core, but the next year, after injuries and a losing streak, management panicked as they often do in Montreal and fired Therrien.
After going back to the American hockey league coaching in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, and having tremendous success, Therrien received the call from the Pittsburgh Penguins to coach their team. This again was a team going through a major rebuild, although they did have Sidney Crosby, who is often considered to be the best. After taking over mid-season, which saw him give us one of the best post-game rants ever, the Pens started playing with more grit and determination, and had a much better system in place. Therrien’s first full season with the team allowed them to earn 47 more points than the previous season. This is directly attributed to the work ethic put in place by coach Therrien. In his second season, he brought the team to the Stanley Cup finals against Detroit, and they only lost after six games. After his departure the following season, the Penguins managed to win the Cup.
Image source: Associated Press
One would say this proves Therrien is great at instilling structure within a team, but some have argued he cannot finish the job. I couldn't disagree more. Therrien, in my opinion, was simply the victim of circumstance. The Penguins won the cup the very same year he was replaced, but never made it past the second round but once in the next seven years. Michel Therrien knew what buttons to push and which changes to make during a game. Also, and most importantly, he brings passion to a team!
In 2012, the Montreal Canadiens were again in need of passion after missing the playoffs. General Manager Marc Bergevin made the call to the one man who could bring devotion and dedication back in an NHL dressing room and on the ice. The one man who could give the team back to the fans. Michel Therrien. With an elite-like team, Michel Therrien was poised to bring the Canadiens back to their promised land of the Stanley Cup Finals.
His first year was a success, with the team finishing second in the conference games, but his second year was even better. After eliminating their long time foes, the Boston Bruins, in seven games, the Habs found themselves in the conference finals to face the New York Rangers. The excitement was at an all time high in Montreal, and the possibility of playing hockey in mid-June for the Cup was a very real.
Then, disaster-struck. Price got injured. I am convinced that, had this not happened, the Canadiens would have won the Cup.
The following year, Montreal finished first in its division, and was eventually beaten by Stanley Cup finalists Tampa Bay Lightning in six games. The following year was a down year, as we saw several players out with injuries, most notably Carey Price.
With over five years with the team, Therrien is the team’s longest tenured coach in the last 35 years. Sometimes after such a long stint, athletes tune out a coach, a manager, it's normal. Would firing Michel Therrien really change something? Doesn't every team go through slumps? I believe so. Considering the abundance of injuries to key players again this year, and the lack of offensive talent on the team, I do not think the coach is to blame.
I would not want to be Marc Bergevin right now, having to make this decision. With that in mind, I am happy to be writing this article and not managing the most successful hockey team of all time, as it must be constant pressure from fans and media who think they know what is best. The subject is up for debate, as it always is in Montreal. Should the coach be fired? I'll let you, the reader, be the judge. However, it's a good thing the final decision is not in our hands!