As much as the Canadiens have changed on the ice this offseason, they may have changed even more behind the bench. After going with three rookie coaches in a row the Canadiens brought in 20-year NHL coaching veteran Jacques Martin. The Habs’ new bench boss got his coaching start with the St. Louis Blues in 1986-87 and two years later led them to a division title. He also has plenty of National level experience having been an assistant coach on the last two Canadian Olympic teams as well as the 2004 World Cup team. Martin decided to bring in two of his own assistants, Pierre Groulx was named the new goaltending coach and Perry Pearn is the other assistant along with the returning Kirk Muller.
Both Pearn and Groulx have previous experience working with Martin in Ottawa; when Martin left for Florida only Groulx followed while Pearn went to the Rangers. This means that when the coaching staff assembles for the first training camp practice later on this week they should all be on the same page, as Martin has already met with Muller to go over his vision for the club.
Martin’s coaching style has been compared to the “trap” played in New Jersey and Minnesota by some, but according to him “it’s about puck possession and being responsible at both ends of the rink.” This is something the Canadiens will need to apply if they look to help Carey Price bounce back from a sophomore jinxed season. It will be a system based on responsibility to defence first and taking advantage of turnovers caused by suffocating the opponent’s space.
This means the Habs will need to use the speed they picked up in the free agent market this offseason to quickly move the puck down the ice to the opponents net. That will most likely be up to Brian Gionta, Scott Gomez, and Mike Cammalleri as the team’s biggest offensive threats and its fastest skaters. Players like Maxim Lapierre, Travis Moen, Glen Metropolit and Gregory Stewart should have larger roles on the team as its primary defensive players.
On defence, General Manager Bob Gainey went for experience and also added tons of size, as the blueline now only has two players under 6’0 (Jaroslav Spacek and Yannick Weber who are both 5’11). The signing of Hal Gill (6’7) and Paul Mara (6’4) along with Ryan O’Byrne’s (6’6) return means that the Habs’ defence will have a huge wingspan this season and will take away even more space. All of this will fit into Martin’s defensive scheme where players will look to close passing lanes with either their bodies or their stick and push the players into corners forcing them to turn over the puck.
Pierre Groulx will be working with the goaltenders this season; he held the same position with the Panthers over the past two years where he worked with both Craig Anderson and Tomas Vokoun, both of whom showed great improvement under his tutelage. Carey Price will be learning a lot about technique and positioning, two things that Martin thinks helped both Vokoun and Anderson tremendously. Look for Groulx to work on Price’s mental stability and have him watch much more film as Groulx was the video coach for five years under Martin with the Senators and three with the Panthers before being promoted to the goaltender coach position.
Pearn was Jacques Martin’s assistant in Ottawa from ‘96-’04 and spent the last five years within the Rangers organization. Like Martin he has some national level experience as he was the Head Coach for the Canadian National Junior gold medal winning team at the 1993 World Junior Championships. Muller as most Habs fans know was one of Montreal’s best defensive minded forwards while on the roster, but he also put up big numbers scoring 959 points in 1349 career games. The two assistant coaches are both defensive minded but they will not restrict the team’s offensive ability.
With a new coaching staff and a new roster there will be tons of new and exciting ideas in the Canadiens dressing room, most of them being from Jacques Martin and his three assistants. He was brought in to stabilize the leagues’ most storied club, after a tumultuous season with rumours of players over-partying and under committing in practice, two things Martin will surely never accept. He will bring defensive accountability and will have players be responsible for their actions on and off the ice, something the Habs really could have used last season.