5 Reasons Michel Therrien Won't Finish Season as Montreal Canadiens Coach
I know what you’re thinking: Michel Therrien was just hired by the Montreal Canadiens.
How often do head coaches get fired less than one season in?
It turns out, other than John MacLean (New Jersey Devils, 2010), Craig Hartsburg (Ottawa Senators, 2008-2009) and Barry Melrose (Tampa Bay Lightning, just 16 games into the 2008-2009 season), not that often.
Still, for the skeptical few that remain, here are five reasons why Therrien won't be around after 2013.
Everyone familiar with Michel Therrien knows two main things.
One: He has perhaps the weirdest looking combover on anybody not named Donald Trump, and the jury is still out as to whether or not that’s a combover or a hairpiece.
Two: He likes, well, to shout—a lot.
Back in the spring of 2002, during Therrien’s first tenure as head coach of the Habs, Boston Bruin Kyle McLaren reverse-clotheslined Richard Zednik when the two teams met in the first round of the playoffs.
Therrien promptly launched into a verbal assault on the Bruins' bench and his counterpart Robbie Ftorek.
After the game, he stupidly continued in public, saying in front of the press that if Boston was going to go after his best players, he should do the same.
Crazy, I know…that Richard Zednik was Montreal’s best player at the time.
Thankfully, nothing came of Therrien’s boneheaded threats and Montreal was able to beat the Bruins without a concussed Zednik.
In Round 2 against the Carolina Hurricanes, Therrien had not yet learned from his mistakes. A bench minor with the Habs up 3-0 in Game 4, and up 2-1 in the series, gave the Hurricanes a two-man advantage and allowed them back into the game. The Canes eventually won it and the following two.
Here’s hoping history doesn’t continue to repeat itself, as much as Montreal could use another trip to the second round.
No Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin
Clearly, through the practice of black magic, Therrien was hired into the single-cushiest job in all of sports when he became the head coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins during Sidney Crosby’s rookie season.
Evgeni Malkin would join the team the following year, forming perhaps the most lethal one-two punch in National Hockey League history.
Granted, there are other worthy candidates of being referred to as such, but there’s little denying that both Crosby and Malkin have won the Hart Memorial Trophy as the league’s most valuable player.
Coaching those two, Therrien was able to take the Penguins all the way to the Stanley Cup Final (and then lose to the Detroit Red Wings).
Needless to say, Montreal is not blessed with nearly as much talent or firepower and, in Montreal, where expectations are always for a championship banner, fans might very well be calling for Therrien’s head sooner rather than later, even if the inevitable lack of success is more a reflection on the players than his coaching ability.
Of course, based on his past failures, there’s little chance of that.
Inherent Lack of Big-League Coaching Ability
Therrien has undeniably had success coaching in both junior and the American Hockey League. Those that dispute that fact can look to his 1996 Memorial Cup and his 21-1-2 record during his last season coaching the Wilkes/Barre Scranton Penguins (before getting promoted).
That being said, it’s his performance in the National Hockey League that has left something to be desired.
As mentioned previously, he took the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup Final in 2007-2008. But, if one looks at the roster he had, they have to assume they only lost to the Detroit Red Wings because of his inability to outcoach Mike Babcock. It’s that simple.
Crosby, Malkin, Jordan Staal, Kris Letang, a healthy Ryan Whitney, a younger Sergei Gonchar and Marian friggin’ Hossa. All that talent, and no cigar, no matter how many opponents the Pens smoked along the way.
Therrien’s supporters may point out that his successor, Dan Bylsma, was only able to win it all once despite having Crosby and Malkin for a total of four years behind the bench. So, what does that make him? Besides a Stanley Cup-winning coach?
Unlucky first and foremost, since for two of those years Bylsma had to deal with Crosby being out of the lineup, including in 2010-2011 when both he and Malkin were injured during the playoffs. Therrien can make no such claim despite having had a lineup Scotty Bowman would have been proud to coach.
In the hockey-mad fishbowl that is Montreal, where flipping the bird at an overzealous reporter can get you traded (Guy Carbonneau), you need a certain je ne sais quoi. Call it grace under fire.
Whatever it is, chances are Therrien doesn’t have it.
Maybe it was a simple coaching tactic that didn’t pan out. Maybe the rumors are true and he had the blessing of upper management before he opened his mouth. Maybe, just maybe, it was all planned and scripted.
But, whatever the rationale, soon after he took over the 8-17-6 Penguins in December 2005, Therrien publicly ripped his entire team, especially pointing the finger at his defense after a 3-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers.
Say what you want about how it was an example of tough love, that it made the team better, that a good coach holds his team accountable, etc.—Therrien still ended that season with a horrendous 14-29-8 record (meaning he just barely had a better winning percentage than Ed Olczyk did that year with the same team) and it would still be two years before Therrien was able to get his team, a drastically different one by the way, to the finals.
Perhaps Therrien has learned from this mistake of publicly airing his grievances with his team. One must certainly hope considering this year’s edition of the Habs is poised to ice a similarly lackluster defensive corps.
Better Candidates out There
There’s little denying that, as general manager Marc Bergevin’s first handpicked head coach, Therrien will be given a lot of slack. Bergevin clearly doesn’t want to be seen as a fool.
However, unofficially, one has to think that Therrien wasn’t his first choice and perhaps wasn’t his choice at all. That would be pure speculation on my part, but when one lists all the repeat coaches in Montreal Canadiens history (Newsy Lalonde, Cecil Hart, Claude Ruel and now Therrien), one name sticks out like a sore thumb.
Everyone who wasn’t living under a rock this past spring knows how close Bob Hartley was to getting the job.
Very few people are likely privy as to why he instead chose to go to Calgary (the chance to work under the incomparable hockey mind of Jay Feaster perhaps?). As such, consider Therrien the team’s second choice at best.
Taking into account the unfortunate prerequisite of the ability to speak French as a Habs coach, Therrien may not even have been that high on the Habs’ wish list, but simply the candidate on whom they settled.
Marc Crawford? Not fluent enough. Patrick Roy? Even more temperamental. Guy Boucher? The perfect candidate…but strangely unavailable.
In one of his few moments of professionalism, former general manager Pierre Gauthier allowed Boucher to be courted by the Lightning despite being coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs at the time.
Why, oh, why couldn’t the same person who picked off Jacques Martin’s coaching staff one by one last season to try and save his own skin been present then?
In any case, even though it’s bad form to fire someone just because a better candidate becomes available, it’s at least possible with Therrien.
Crazier things have happened before and generally first-class organizations like Montreal do sometimes do classless things. The whole Randy Cunneyworth incident, for instance. How long did he last as head coach of the Canadiens again?
If Boucher becomes available—considering the team he has at his disposal in Tampa, he very well could at some point this year—lightning may indeed strike twice in Montreal over a course of two years.