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If there is any word that best characterizes the Montreal Canadiens over the last few years, it is this one.

The team has made upgrades in its management and coaching structure. It has added new voices to its scouting department. The Habs now have a premier analytics department. They have hired more player development personnel – including one of the best in the profession, along with first-rate consultants. The team snagged key personnel from the highly respected New York Rangers’ medical and training staff. And it now boasts having one of the NHL’s best media relations departments.

Basically, the Habs have entered the 21st century as former captain Max Pacioretty had so desired and, as a result, this organization is now poised to take the next steps in becoming a perennial contender.

But there is one ‘weak link’ that needs to be addressed: coaching.

Don’t get me wrong, I think the world of Martin St. Louis. He is a difference-maker. St. Louis’ players love him. He maximizes their potential and does so without ultimately crushing their souls. He alone has made Montreal a very attractive destination for players around the league. The man also oozes hockey intelligence.

Both St. Louis and his inexperienced coaching staff, though, can and should upgrade their skill sets by using the same resources that Montreal has provided to both its players and general manager.

The team’s GM, Kent Hughes, who has tremendous Martin St. Louis-like potential in his occupation, also has VP of Hockey Operations, Jeff Gorton, at his side. What a difference this has made in his growth.

St. Louis and the club’s AHL coach, Jean-Francois Houle, (if his contract is extended) along with the Habs’ and Rocket’s coaching staffs, could likewise use some behind-the-scenes “consigliere” like assistance.

For all the years that I have been given the privilege of writing for HabsWorld, I have consistently hammered the point that in sports, success comes from finding ‘edges.’ The more you have over your competitors, the greater the likelihood you will come out on top.

Just look at the number of games that Montreal lost by a single goal this past season. Had this team won 50% of these close matches, the Habs would now be in the playoffs and I would be writing a column about their performance here in the first round.

Success for the Canadiens means maximizing the potential in every single aspect of its organization and right now, this franchise is vulnerable in the coaching department.

Martin St. Louis and his staff can use at least two highly experienced consultants to take him and his staff to the next level. The way that I see it, coaching is like rowing. You’re only as good as the output of each oarsman in your shells/sculls.

The club should set as its goal to enable every single person in the coaching department to be capable of being a head coach. The better equipped each assistant is, the better Martin St. Louis will be and the faster the shell will go.

As for St. Louis, he alone needs the same mentor support that he has provided for players such as Juraj Slafkovsky, Cole Caufield, and company.

You can only learn so much on your own or via your innate abilities. And it certainly appears that Martin St. Louis possesses both a brilliant hockey mind and is a tremendous self-study. But in order to maximize his potential, what would be the harm of providing him with a second, highly experienced voice to bounce ideas off of? Surely this will not hurt the Montreal Canadiens.

The main counterargument to what I’m suggesting here comes from the coaching staff itself. They want to be left alone. They keep saying that while they do not have direct experience in this field, they, in totality, have played thousands of hockey games. This has to count for something.

This is a valid point. Having experienced by osmosis numerous systems and coaching techniques while valuable, though, is not enough.

Imagine that you are a sharp-as-a-whip apprentice electrician or carpenter and you have the opportunity to work with a retired, seasoned master electrician or carpenter who is communicative and desires to pass on his knowledge when needed. Would you not benefit from his knowledge and expertise? Would you not speed up your learning curve?

The point that I am trying to make here is that Martin St. Louis may be a very good coach on his own with tremendous potential but with the right resources, he could become a second-time Hall of Fame inductee in this category. In order to get there though, he needs some help.

Actual experience matters. Look at most of the top contenders in the NHL. Most have highly experienced assistant coaching staffs. What would have happened if Martin St. Louis had had a truly tragic family crisis this past season? Would Trevor Letowski have been fully ready to take over?

I realize that the managerial tandem of Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes seems committed to keeping the current coaching staff. I also admit that both are smarter than I am.

They are not risking their ultimate success on sentimentality here. They believe that they have the right people in place to lead the Canadiens to the next level. But surely they must be willing to admit that there is room for further improvement here.

The same applies to the coaching situation concerning the farm team in Laval where, over the next three years, the bulk of Montreal’s draft picks will be coming.

The team’s head coach, Jean-Francois Houle, seems to be a quality person and is doing his best but is he the right person to maximize the potential of the Canadiens’ prospects?


He appears to have earned the respect of his players. And there certainly have been players from Laval, such as Jayden Struble and Joshua Roy who have graduated into the Canadiens’ lineup but why do I have a sinking feeling that more can be extracted from a developmental standpoint via the farm team?

Would this club not be better off with another Martin St. Louis clone who can better relate with players based on his actual player experience? Perhaps Montreal assistant coach Alex Burrows might be the best person for this position. He seems to have aspirations of one day being a head coach and taking on the reigns in Laval would be the next appropriate step.

If Burrows goes to Laval for a second stint (having spent time as an assistant before joining Montreal), would this open up room for a more Xs and Os assistant for the main club? Or does J-F Houle simply need a consigliere of his own?

I don’t get paid the big bucks to make these decisions but I believe that it is fair for me to spur on some debate concerning this matter.

A lot is at stake developmentally over these next few years and Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes along with Laval Rocket General Manager John Sedgwick need to think through these next few months what must be done with the two levels of their coaching staffs in order to maximize the potential of each and every player on the Canadiens’ and Rocket’s rosters.

I’m going to say this one more time, success in hockey, like all other sports, is a game of inches. The Canadiens must not ignore the intrinsic value of modifications in the area of coaching. The Habs need some more upgrades.

They have to move from a position of good to great. They can’t be static in this area. Doing so would place them below the curve. Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes know this and I am fully confident that they will do what needs to be done in this essential element of the rebuild.