Habs’ fans and media are in a frenzy. Or rather, perhaps the word panic would be more appropriate. The team can’t find consistency and now, everyone should be fired and/or traded. At the very least, everyone should be sat. Top players are not NHL worthy. Coaches can’t coach. The GM, who was praised by his great work just weeks ago, should now be fired on the spot. Even the owner should fire himself! Yes folks, that’s how ridiculous it is to read couch analysts self-proclaimed as the most knowledgeable fans in the NHL. Hint: they’re not.
But what prompted me to do some research and write this article is not the panic. It’s rather when I saw a few people pumping Claude Julien‘s tires in a (lame) attempt at putting down Dominique Ducharme and what he’s done. For one thing, let’s get one thing straight. This is no usual season. It’s a shortened season, with very little practice time and teams playing a lot of hockey in a short time. The Habs are playing four games a week. It’s rather easy, sitting on the couch eating potato chips, drinking beer while typing on a phone or keyboard, to downplay fatigue. It’s not so much the case when you’re the athlete going through it.
Just this morning, I was having a discussion with someone who claims that fatigue is an excuse for making mistakes on the ice, having brain cramps. Science has proven, over and over again, that physical and mental fatigue negatively affects performances in athletes. I mean come on. It is scientifically proven that fatigue is affecting us in our day to day decisions so imagine when you have to physically perform at the NHL level intensity! So when we claim that fatigue is a huge factor as to why the Habs are struggling with consistency, it’s a scientifically proven fact, not some “excuse” as some want us to believe… and it’s not just the Canadiens.
Julien vs Ducharme
As mentioned, a couple of tweets prompted me to write this. Honestly, I didn’t think it was fair, nor did it tell the whole story. To the credit of those individuals, it’s hard to show the whole story in a tweet limited to 140 characters. Although I’m not convinced that the goal was to be fair to Ducharme.
Isn’t that great? I mean, what a horrible coach they put in as interim coach, right? He’s no better than the previous one, right? Skimming the surface with numbers is great to support a pre-defined concept, not to say narrative. It’s not false by any means. It’s just… incomplete. After all, why would they fire a coach with a .611 points percentage?
In order to put things into perspective, let’s break down Julien’s season, as that’s what Marc Bergevin had to do when he made his decision. And that’s what he’ll do when he looks at the Canadiens’ record at the end of the season when making a decision about keeping Ducharme as the head coach or not. The last two columns is what they’ll be looking at.
|OVERALL||FIRST 10 GAMES||LAST 9 GAMES|
|PTS%||.611 (5th)||.800 (2nd)||.333 (28th)||.521 (19th)|
|GF/GP||3.39 (6th)||4.40 (1st)||2.22 (23rd)||2.63 (19th)|
|GA/GP||2.78 (14th)||2.60 (26th)||3.33 (25th)||2.75 (17th)|
|PP%||18.2% (20th)||23.7% (13th)||10.5% (29th)||20.0% (13th)|
|PK%||76.4% (22nd)||79.6% (15th)||71.9% (26th)||78.1% (21st)|
As you can see, the Canadiens were trending the wrong way when Claude Julien was fired. They were amongst the worst teams in the NHL during that 9-game span. Bergevin had the two eight-game winless streaks from last season fresh in his mind. He decided to keep his coach in place in hope that a week of practice without games would help his coaching staff to turn things around. It didn’t and that’s when the Canadiens’ GM pulled the plug on Julien and Kirk Muller.
Ducharme came in with little to no practice time to try to change things on the fly. Yes, once again, your regular couch analysts will downplay this, but people in hockey know how difficult it is to do. It is important to know that Ducharme has done this without Ben Chiarot and Carey Price, lost to injuries, while Julien’s team was healthy for the most part.
Including the Canadiens’ hot start and comparing the two coaches’ records is not false. It’s just incomplete are quite frankly, perhaps a bit ill intent in order to push a theory that simply isn’t totally true. Ducharme has straightened things up. Is it perfect? Not by any means. But to claim there’s no improvement is also not right.
Resting veterans and GM mistake?
In this unusual season, a rookie coach must learn on the fly. He can’t rely on experience. To be fair, no coach has gone through a season like this one before. In my humble opinion, it is key to be pro-active and think outside the box. That additional week off caused by Joel Armia and Jesperi Kotkaniemi being on the NHL’s COVID Protocols’ list has condensed an already very tight schedule and players are running out of gas. Shea Weber isn’t the shadow of himself. The veterans are struggling to keep pace. Mental mistakes by usually very sound and dependable players are blatantly unusual. They need rest. My view is it’s better to play a game here and there without Weber in the line-up, and have him performing well the other games, than having him at 50-60% of capacity.
But it seems like Ducharme has been handcuffed by Bergevin, who did not predict the need to save a few bucks under the cap with this tight schedule. Players on the Taxi Squad, the young players on the Laval Rockets, need to be used more to give NHL regulars some much needed time off. But being tight against the cap prevents the coaching staff from using the Michael Frolik, Cole Caufield, Ryan Poehling, Jordan Weal, Joel Teasdale or Jesse Ylonen… He did have a chance to save a few bucks at trade deadline and while he did well getting affordable players, or getting teams to eat up salary, he’s still tight against the cap. And his coaches, and ultimately his team, is suffering because of it.
Not all is on Bergevin thought. When the NHLPA and the NHL negotiated a return to play, they should have thought of the impact of the number of call-ups from the NHL (limited to 4) and the salary cap. Not only are the teams handicapped, but the players stuck on the Taxi Squad or in the AHL on two-way contracts are missing out on NHL games and better money. And the NHL players are running out of steam. Total lack of foresight everywhere, in my opinion, and plenty of blame to share.
It would be nice to have Weber miss a game a week or one every two weeks. It would be nice to give Jeff Petry, who was up to a Norris-type start, the odd night off. Joel Edmundson isn’t as efficient. Those aren’t young poneys. I don’t know how the Canadiens will resolve their issues to be truthful. If they can’t even bring fresh forces and find ways to rest their top veterans, this team isn’t going to do well. Oh they should make the playoffs, but it won’t get any easier or restful in the playoffs. Go Habs Go!