As you all know by now, the Habs made a coaching change on Saturday,
replacing Jacques Martin with assistant coach Randy Cunneyworth. Although
it didn’t pay immediate dividends in a 5-3 loss that night, there is hope that
Cunneyworth can turn things around. Do our writers feel the same way?
Here are our thoughts on the matter.
To be honest, this firing floored me. Martin’s dismissal had been long-rumoured
(and fervently wished for) by some, but without an adequate francophone
replacement available, I figured Martin’s job would be safe for the rest of the
season. But it seems that the Molsons have okayed an English-speaking coach for
the time being, and this may open the door for a larger pool of candidates in
Will Martin’s dismissal help the Canadiens? It is no secret that Martin kept
his club thinking defence-first, and this logically stunted any offensive
potential. This was due in part to Martin’s style, and the fact that Montreal’s
blue-line has been regularly decimated by injury for the past few years. That
being said, there were rumours of some key players being unhappy with their
offense being stifled, and perhaps the team could benefit from Randy Cunneyworth
opening things up. I certainly hope that the younger players get more chances
under the new coach, and that certain veterans that seemed to get a free pass
under Martin will be held accountable for their performances.
All in all, I look forward to seeing what direction the Canadiens take in the
post-Martin era, and hope to see a more successful, exciting brand of hockey.
It would be unfair to diminish all the good Martin accomplished over the past
few seasons, and I remain doubtful that many other coaches could have done
better, given the injuries.
George Kouniakis: I have to admit with a little embarrassment that my
first reaction was somewhere between excitement and joy. And my second reaction
was guilt; guilt that I found myself so pleased that a man had lost his job. I
am the first to admit that I was never excited by Martin’s hiring. I don’t think
I am unique among Habs fans for wanting my team to win, but with offensive
flair. Having said that, I didn’t have any problems with Martin’s coaching
during the 2010 playoffs. Jacques Martin is a good coach who gets good results
more often than not. To not acknowledge this would just be stubborn and deluded.
But I do think that a coaching change was necessary, and my primary reason for
thinking this is Mike Cammalleri.
It is something that has been true of most of the Habs veterans this season,
but I think it is most apparent with Cammalleri; he has been underachieving and
we know he is capable of more. Something about his game just seems… off. Mike
Cammalleri is a goal scorer, and this season he is not scoring goals. I recently
have been asking myself if he had become frustrated with a system that does not
allow his skills to flourish. It is easy for players to talk about how winning
is more important than individual statistics or accomplishments, but it
certainly becomes more difficult when the team stops winning. Based on some of
the speculation that has come out in the media coverage since Martin’s
dismissal, it seems I was not the only one asking these questions. It was
becoming more obvious that members of the team were frustrated. When this
happens, eventually something has to change. And if you cannot move players
because their output does not correlate with their contract, then you move the
coach. That, as they say, is just the way it is.
Brian La Rose: First off, count me among the surprised with this
announcement, especially after learning Cunneyworth would be replacing Martin.
Though they have different personalities, both coaches preach defensive
accountability first and foremost which leaves me skeptical we’ll see any real
notable ‘culture change.’ If that winds up being the case, they may have
been better off with the status quo; we’ll see in five to six months from now.
For years, fans yearned for an experienced coach and pretty much from the minute
Martin arrived, yearned for ‘new blood.’ Cunneyworth is a rookie NHL head
coach but has a strong foundation of coaching experience to draw from, more than
a lot of the Habs’ previous hires which is reason for tempered optimism.
The more interesting issue is the situation that now presents itself with
regards to GM Pierre Gauthier. Not being allowed to hire a more permanent
coach could mean he soon will be out the door as well. Truth be told, I
think he’s done a pretty good job overall, more acquisitions have panned out
than haven’t but that doesn’t appear to be enough to save his job barring a
midseason turnaround by the team. This begs the question, "Why was he
allowed to do this even?" Unless the team gets going in the next six weeks
(and with the continued injuries, that’s far from a given even with the coaching
change), I’d say there’s a pretty good chance Bob Gainey will be taking the team
through the trade deadline to set things up for an offseason replacement,
similar to what Toronto did with Cliff Fletcher a few years back.
So what have Saturday’s events brought us? A GM who may very well need
approval from higher up to do much of anything more to the roster and a coach
that, barring a miracle, may very well be out the door almost as fast as he
walked through it, especially with the predictable media storm that has taken
place with regards to the linguistic side of coaching that is only relevant in
this market. (Anyone who has read my writing on this site over the past
eight years knows my feelings about that, they need not be repeated here.) The
Habs appear to have went from having a coach and GM on thin ice…to a coach and
GM on thinner ice. I know midseason changes don’t always bring about
stability but could the team really be in any more of a tenuous situation now?
Not exactly the thoughts of a brighter future that a new coach is supposed to
bring. Good luck, Randy. You’re going to need it.
If you want to impose a change in the team’s culture, it cannot be done in
half-measures like it has been this season. Assistant Coach Perry Pearn was
fired earlier this season but retained as a scout. Then Jacques Martin was let
go only to be replaced by another assistant coach, Randy Cunneyworth.
Meanwhile, Larry Carriere descends from the front office into a coaching
position as well.
Bob Gainey, who groomed Pierre Gauthier as his successor, remains with the
team as a consultant. Clement Jodoin, previously an assistant with the
Canadiens, coaches the farm team. Patrick Boivin, former President Pierre
Boivin’s son, is in an upper management position as well.
The point here is not to indict the skill or professionalism of any of the
above men, or to suggest they should be dismissed. Rather, it is to illustrate
the pointlessness of firing the head coach when so much remains of what
increasingly looks like a dysfunctional franchise. Constant retention and
promotion from within only serves to propagate an organizational culture that
has failed to produce on-ice results for the better part of two decades.
True change will only come when Geoff Molson takes an objective, tough and
thorough look at each member of his organization.
Jonathan Rebelo: At the beginning of the season, I would have told you there is almost no way
Jacques could get fired; even after the Canadiens only had 1 win in their first
8 games I still thought he was secure in his job. Jacques, as many questioned in
the days and weeks leading to his firing, did have some players quit on him. This
was clear in the player interviews after the news broke. Josh Gorges among
others brought this up of course without pointing fingers.
To me the decision to fire him is probably useless for the fact that his
replacement will offer more of the same in terms of a “system.” Hopefully he can
be more willing to adapt and change during a game. Cunneyworth was a disciple of
Jacques Martin as a player and a coach. However, I do believe it is possible the
team will be better with him as they may be healthier. The return of Andrei
Markov should it ever happen should give the Canadiens a massive boost from the
back end which could push the Habs into the top-8 in the east.
In closing I feel awful for Cunneyworth as he will be torn to shreds by the
majority of the French media no matter how he does in the standings.
Please come back Nordiques, PLEASE!
Michael Richard: I don’t think too many Hab fans were surprised by the news
of Martin’s firing. The mood was turning against him and the results were just
not good enough to stem the tide. The timing of the decision does leave one to
wonder whether or not the decision was solely that of Pierre Gauthier. It seems
like there may have been some influence from ownership but that is something
we’ll never know.
Considering Randy Cunneyworth is only an interim coach the discussion
inevitably turns to his replacement. Language will always be part of this
debate but in the end results are all that matters. The right coach for the
situation should be the only concern and if he/she is unilingual English, even
the French media will accept him/her if the results are right.
Norm Szcyrek: The team has been under performing which is a huge
understatement. Many of the veterans who aren’t new in Montreal this season are
also playing well below par, which indicates they had either tuned Jacques
Martin out, not bought into his systems, or not believed in Martin’s unusual
"tactics" [eg. early season use of Mathieu Darche on the PP while ignoring an obvious
goal scorer like Erik Cole]. Martin is not known for being a motivator or much of a
communicator, but is more of an "old school" styled coach. Cunneyworth brings
much more passion behind the bench than the man he replaced, and since he was an
former NHLer, the veterans may listen to him better. However given that he was
very close to Martin, it will remain interesting to watch if he can employ new
strategies for the forwards and defence to use, to pull them out of their funk.