I often try to draw parallels between the Canucks and the Canadiens, various situations they’re facing. The head coach position is one area where there are a lot of questions, and a lot of the fans are clamouring for a change.
Willie Desjardins isn’t loathed personally as Michel Therrien seems to be by many in Montréal, but a lot of the accusations are the same, that he doesn’t play youngsters, doesn’t develop them well, that he only plays them because Brandon Prust and Chris Higgins are no longer there to be on the roster, every day.
One big difference though is that when Trevor Linden gave his Head Coach a vote of confidence, the wording was quite different. Instead of like Marc Bergevin answering in the affirmative a direct question on if his coach would finish out the season no matter what, from which a lot of Canadiens fans deduced that he would be fired after, assuredly, Trevor stated calmly that Willie would be the coach next season.
Right or wrong, his coach is a lot more secure in that regard, in that fans know what to expect, and don’t feel like they have to whip themselves into a frenzy of hatred and personal attacks to try to tilt the balance in what small way they can come May.
And I thought about this some more, how the RDS guys are confident that Michel Therrien will be back next season, how Michel Therrien seems very assured, relaxed and in control during his press conferences, and it's starting to sink in for me that he will indeed return next season.
During the depths of the swoon, when neither goalie could be relied on, and the team played listlessly, defeatedly in front of them, I thought there was 90% chance that Michel Therrien would be relieved of his duties, if not immediately then most probably in the off-season. It was quite clear that the players had spoken, they weren't playing hard or with any inspiration. They were looking for a change, and it seemed inevitable.
And I was secretly relieved, I've never been a big fan of Monsieur Therrien, I generally prefer young coaches who are 'players coaches', who motivate them, who trust them, who unite a team rather than play mind games with them à la Scotty Bowman. I yearned for Guy Boucher, who was unavailable when we were last hiring, the Lightning having stolen him from us, from the Bulldogs while we relied on white-bread Jacques Martin. He is now freely available, with his impressive résumé, fresh off a stint coaching in Europe to stay sharp while he awaited an opportunity to jump back on the merry-go-round.
Except I'm no longer seeing the stars align, the dominoes falling. My 90% confidence margin has shrunk to a 33% chance that Michel Therrien is let go. It's possible that GM Marc Bergevin has already made a decision, which he will announce in due time, but hasn't bruited yet, hasn't sent out the signals that usually presage such coaching changes. But it's now more likely that he wants to give Michel Therrien more rope, to chew through more of that contract extension he was offered two summers ago, and which expires in 2019.
And I wonder why. Coaches have a shelf-life, and Michel Therrien is believed to have a relatively short one, his tough love approach, his 'my way or the gangway (to the pressbox)' style wears on players. Would this summer not be a good time to make a fresh start, now that the team's culture of hard work, of team work, of selflessness, of 'Pas d'excuses' is established? Have a more fan-friendly, player-friendly coach swoop in and build on this foundation, maybe unlock the latent, potential offence to be found in players like Alex Galchenyuk and rookies like Charles Hudon?
One of the big points which Marc Bergevin hammered home early in his tenure is how he wanted to put an end to the revolving door at head coach at the Nouveau Forum. He stated and repeated often that organizational stability is a trait of winning organizations, that the media-fueled madness directed at the coach, the pressure he had to withstand, had to end. He pretty much stated that there was a new sheriff in town, and things were going to be different.
And maybe we nodded facilely, too readily, not understanding to what degree he meant it. Maybe Marc Bergevin is trying to reshape the market, tame the external forces that guided decisions like this in the past, when Red Fisher and Réjean Tremblay were power brokers to be feared, like Walter Cronkite weighing in on the Vietnam War.
More importantly, maybe Marc Bergevin is trying to serve, has already served a message to his players. He is quoted as saying in his past evaluations that he liked his core, his leadership group. During the swoon, he went into the dressing room and exhorted his troops, telling them that they had to rely on each other, that they were the ones who had to pull out of this slump.
And it seemed like they didn't believe him, because they played a slew of games when they gave less than 100% effort, and I'm going to point the finger at my favourite player Andrei Markov here. He along with many of his underperforming teammates seemed to have thrown in the towel. They played as if to force the issue. To speak on the coaching situation louder, since the original message wasn't getting through. By remaining steadfast, Marc Bergevin sent his own message.
Michel Therrien was famously glib and emotional in his previous stints in Montréal and Pittsburgh, and it made for good press copy, good YouTube to this day, but it was ultimately self-defeating, and after getting fired in Pittsburgh, he took some time to develop himself, improve his skillset as a coach. He took some PR and public speaking training with a top firm in Montréal, and it seems to have taken hold. He now has a wide array of inoffensive bromides and clichés he applies to any situation, instead of firing quotes in the heat of the moment. One of which is his trusty line about how adversity isn't necessarily a bad thing, it's how you respond to adversity that's important. How when you have one knee on the ground, the important thing is what you do next, do you put the other knee down, or do you get back up?
The leadership corps has been tested by adversity this season, and may have put the other knee down. They might have looked to the GM to get them a new coach, a different goalie. They looked for help 'outside their dressing room'. And their pleas went unheeded. The GM gave them some tough love, he meant it when he said they had to get themselves out of the mess, he wasn't going to do it for them.
Maybe in the long run, in terms of changing the culture, in terms of empowering the veterans and leaders and steeling them for what they'll have to face in the next few years, Marc Bergevin is ready to weather the current storm to ensure smoother sailing for the future of the organization.