The Kiss of Death? Maybe, Maybe not

Let’s face it. It’s a disappointing season for everyone. After missing the playoffs by four points last season, the players were pumped when showing up at training camp. They felt like they had a legitimate shot at playing hockey in April and they worked all summer to get ready. The coaching staff also liked their chances of helping them get to that goal. Marc Bergevin, while disappointed to lose out on Matt Duchene and Sebastian Aho, likely would not have predicted seeing his team this far out of a playoffs’ spot at this time of the season. And fans? Well, fans will be fans. But the sting of missing the playoffs once again is not easy on anyone.

New fan favourite Ilya Kovalchuk was traded. Uncle Nate (Thompson) and his shimmy is also gone, as is Montreal native Marco Scandella. Thankfully, Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron came back. Drouin is out again but Byron is back to old form with six points in seven games since returning to the lineup after knee surgery. Now Victor Mete is out. Jeff Petry is missing practices due to a foot injury and Shea Weber, who was said by some hockey Insiders to be out for the season with a career threatening injury, only missed a few games. And young sensation Jesperi Kotkaniemi had to be sent down to Laval to work on his game with Joël Bouchard.

But not all is bad around the Canadiens. The Ben Chiarot signing turned out to be a great deal. Having reached the 40 points plateau, rookie Nick Suzuki is having himself a great first season. Tomas Tatar is as steady as a pricey Rolex. Carey Price, after yet another rough month of November, has been playing some outstanding hockey. Before his foot injury, Captain Weber was on pace for a career year and he has reached the 15 goals plateau for the 11th time of his illustrious career, putting him amongst a select few to have done this. And the young guys keep on progressing, as proven by young Jake Evans and Cale Fleury.

Claude Julien

Let’s face it, few are the people who think that status quo is the way to go about next season. Some are calling for the firing of Claude Julien, others want to see Bergevin shown the door. A few others go as far as wanting… the owner gone! But realistically, Geoff Molson isn’t going to fire himself as team President, and he won’t step down from the position and nor should he, as we touched on recently. Further, Bergevin’s job is safe this summer as Molson understood that when he gave his GM a vote of confidence and approved the reset plans, it would take a few years to pay dividends. But what about the coaching staff?

In an interview with RDS’ own Chantal Machabee, Bergevin was asked directly about the future of Julien as the Habs’ head coach. He confirmed, on camera, that Julien would be there come training camp. Well, did that stir the pot with media and fans! You can imagine the reaction of those wanting some changes other than on the ice.

Before panicking folks, let’s ask ourselves a simple question: with such a direct question, with the season still in progress, what is Bergevin to say? Do you honestly think that he would say that he’s thinking of making changes? I know, I know, some will call it a lack of transparency. Don’t fall for it though. If I were a betting man, I would guess that Bergevin hasn’t made up his mind about his coaching staff. He has said since day one that he waits after the season to evaluates everyone, from players to coaches. Not in early March. So while I understand the question, what were the expectations for an answer? “Yeah… well… we’re looking at options…” or “Claude will be fired after the season“??? Even a “we will evaluate at the end of the season” would have started a fire in Montreal.

That said, it is possible that Bergevin and his management team decide to keep the head coach in place. It’s pretty obvious that the players have not stopped playing for him. He has tons of experience and he is a good coach, in spite of many very questionable decisions, in my humble opinion. If it was up to me, or many others with whom I have discussed or read, there would be a coaching change… and it could still happen, in spite of Bergevin’s comments.

This brings us back to the never ending debate of “hiring the best coach available” or the “best bilingual coach”… a useless discussion as bilingualism is obviously a hiring criteria for the positions of head coach or General Manager of the Montreal Canadiens, a very unique market by its location. Let’s not go there right now and let’s stick to the bilingual option, whether we agree with it or not, as it’s what will happen. There are many choices out there, most without NHL head coaching experience.

My own personal choice would be to promote Dominique Ducharme. He is in his second year as an assistant coach under Julien and he has seen what works and what doesn’t, what he likes and likely what he would do differently. He already knows the players, their strengths and weaknesses. He is younger and has a different approach with players, particularly younger ones, and the Habs have tons of quality prospects who will be coming up in the next few seasons. He has an excellent coaching track record everywhere he’s been.

It was said, at the time of his hiring by the Canadiens, that other teams were interested in him. Wouldn’t it be a shame if the Habs decided to stick with Julien and another team came knocking at the door asking permission to speak to Ducharme for a head coaching job? He and Bouchard are two of the up and comer French Canadian head coaches, right in our backyard. You don’t want to pay a guy $5 million sitting at home? Find him a consultant position with the team. But let’s not lose one of them because we are in a foxhole with yet another recycled former Habs’ coach. Go Habs Go!

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