And grudgingly, I admit that the gruff, inartful coach has worn me down, he's earned all of our respect, based on the team's performance sure, but also in how steadily he's run the ship compared to some of our division rivals. With all the media hype, with a polarizing player like P.K. Subban on the roster, weathering the ups and downs of a season, he's starting his third season with the team firmly in his command, with little of the dressing room strife that is rumoured to exist in Toronto and Ottawa, or existed in Vancouver.
He has a young bunch of collegial hard-working gogetters, early-to-bed and early-to rise types, instead of the Mike Ribeiro posse, or the Carbonneau-Chelios factions. They have the world by the tail, but understand that loping behind their pack is an approaching group of challengers, so they can't ease off, lest they be caught and displaced. That de la Rose kid, among others, will have caught their eye, they know that what happened to Ryan White, Peter Budaj and Francis Bouillon could befall them next.
If hockey is our true national sport, second-guessing the head coach might be a close second. Michel Therrien was assailed continuously last season. He relied overly on his veterans. He didn't trust rookies. He played favourites, some were allowed to make mistakes, others were given a long leash. His system was ineffective, or the team didn't have a system, or his system was too stifling and killed the creativity of his players. Sometimes all in the same game. He was a coach who used violence as a tactic routinely, but failed to understand that he needed to dress tough guys to deter the opposition from taking liberties. He dressed funny, why he once wore a yellow suit fifteen years ago!
Marc Antoine Godin of La Presse has a good profile of the head coach, headlined 'The challenges of Michel Therrien'. I'll point out that it doesn't have the same negative connotation in French.
The article starts off by stating that the coach has indeed convinced most skeptics, being more mature and less arrogant and impulsive than in his first tour of duty. He starts the season with a contract extension freshly signed, and with a new leadership group of players, the four 'Assistants' and Carey Price, he meets with regularly to communicate his philosophy with the rest of the team. He thinks of himself as being in a partnership with the players, necessarily, since he says "we're all in the same boat".
He speaks of his relationship with Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban, and explains that when he first started working with them he outlined where they were as players, and where he thought they could/should get to. Now having reached that point with both players, he thinks they have another level to reach yet. He further explains that you can't use the same methods with different players, partially in response to the fact that he benched P.K. occasionally in the previous two seasons.
He speaks of the importance of progression, of how he installed a new system at camp, but one step at a time, using a university professor as an analogy, going one chapter at a time during the semester.
He speaks highly of Gerard Gallant, and explains that the team was lucky to be able to hire Dan Lacroix who has much the same skillset, but also a fresh voice which can be helpful. Mr. Lacroix will be in charge of the powerplay with Clément Jodoin, and additionally will do the pre-scouting of upcoming adversaries. Last season, that task was shared between Gerard Gallant and Jean-Jacques Daigneault, but this year Mr. Daigneault will focus more on teaching the young defencemen on the team. He will still retain responsibility for the penalty kill.
Michel Therrien in his own words:On Alex Galchenyuk's role at the start of the season: "Alex is comfortable playing on the wing. "I know where I'm going in one year, in two years, in three years with him. I shared that with him before training camp. I didn't want to confuse him by putting him at centre without explaining where we were headed. (...) I liked what I saw of him at centre. We'll make decisions for the good of the team and the good of the player."
> Sur le rôle qui attend Galchenyuk en début de saison: «Alex est très à l'aise de jouer à l'aile. Je sais où je m'en vais dans un an, dans deux ans et dans trois ans avec lui. J'ai partagé ça avec lui avant le camp d'entraînement. Je ne voulais pas mêler le jeune en l'utilisant au centre au début du camp sans lui avoir expliqué là où on s'en allait. (...) J'ai aimé ce que j'ai vu de lui au centre. On prendra les décisions pour le bien de l'équipe et pour le bien du joueur.»
Regarding which of his defencemen will face the opponents' first lines: "We've never made a practice of having one pairing against the other top line. There can be four or five defencemen who will face that line or the top two lines against which we want to match up. I don't like changing players on the fly. They're on the ice, they know who they're facing. Prove to me that you can do so. I don't want to send the message that one of my guys is out of his league, that he doesn't belong there. On the contrary, I want to show him I have confidence in him."
> À savoir lequel de ses duos de défenseurs affronterait les meilleurs éléments adverses: «On n'a jamais eu comme philosophie d'avoir un seul duo de défenseurs contre le meilleur trio adverse. Il peut y avoir quatre ou cinq défenseurs qui seront appelés à affronter le gros trio de l'autre bord ou deux trios avec lesquels on voudra se synchroniser. Je n'aime pas ça, changer des gars "sur le fly". Tu es sur la glace, tu sais contre qui tu joues? Prouve-moi que tu es capable. Je ne veux pas lancer le message qu'un de mes gars n'a pas d'affaire là. Je veux au contraire lui démontrer ma confiance.»
> Sur la façon de gérer le cas de Travis Moen: «Ce n'est pas facile pour un coach. On demande au joueur d'arriver en forme, de maintenir une bonne attitude, et il fait tout cela. Travis fait partie de notre profondeur. Il va toujours manquer quelqu'un dans notre alignement, il y aura toujours des blessés, et tout s'égalisera au bout de la ligne. Travis connaît un bon camp. Il fait ce qui lui est demandé et il a une attitude exemplaire. C'est un gars respecté non seulement de ses coéquipiers, mais des entraîneurs aussi. Tu ne peux pas avoir un meilleur gars que ça. Le temps va arranger les choses, mais parfois, ça doit être plus dur pour lui, j'en suis conscient. Un vétéran comme lui a de la fierté. Sauf qu'on aime la combativité de Brandon Prust sur le quatrième trio et Dale Weise a beaucoup progressé. Certaines décisions ne sont pas faciles.»
On how he'll handle Travis Moen's situation: "That's not easy for a coach. We ask players to arrive in camp in shape, and to have a good attitude, and he does all that. Travis is part of our depth. There is always going to be someone missing from the lineup, there will be injuries, everything will even out in the end. Travis is having a good camp. He does what we're asking him to do and he has an exemplary attitude. He's respected not only by the players but by the coaches. You can't have a better guy than him. With time everything will work out, but sometimes it will be hard on him, I'm aware of that. A veteran like him has his pride. Except that we like the competitiveness of Brandon Prust on the fourth line, and Dale Weise has progressed a lot. Some decisions won't be easy."