Michel Therrien: Was He Justified in Calling out Habs Forward Ryan White?

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Michel Therrien: Was He Justified in Calling out Habs Forward Ryan White?
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images
Ryan White of the Montreal Canadiens.

On Friday, Montreal head coach Michel Therrien met with forward Ryan White, but would not reveal to reporters exactly what was said. If only he had used that same degree of discretion the previous night.

On Thursday, following Montreal’s 5-4 shootout loss to the Buffalo Sabres in which the Habs gave up the game-tying goal with less than two seconds left in the game, Therrien was all too eager to throw the young enforcer under the bus for another ill-advised penalty.

This time, it came in the form of a double-minor for roughing, when White took exception to a hip check from Steve Ott. I say this time, because twice before he has shown a serious lack of discipline.

Montreal Canadien Ryan White jumps Florida Panther Tomas Fleischmann.

The first would be a sucker-punch on Florida Panther Tomas Fleischmann in a 4-1 win on January 22. The second came against the Ottawa Senators on January 30, an unsportsmanlike penalty after arguing with a referee that led to a 5-1 defeat. Thursday’s game was his first since being benched.

Therrien’s comments ran the spectrum from the all-out obvious to the kicking-a-man-when-he’s-down variety. He said:

The game was under control before the penalties he took (via All Habs).

This is the third time this year he put his team in trouble. Clearly undisciplined and unacceptable (via All Habs).

I thought it was a good time to get Ryan White back in the lineup. It wasn’t my best decision (via Arpon Basu).

His comments to the French media (translated into English) were actually more vicious and seemed to constitute a veiled threat (via 98,5 fm):

We deserved a better fate. We were leading 4-2, everything was under control, but the indiscipline of a certain individual put us into a little trouble…The first time we spoke to him. The second time we sent a message. The third time, it's better to understand.

Montreal Canadien Ryan White jumps Buffalo Sabre Steve Ott.

For the record, no one’s disputing that White put himself before the team and that he belongs in the team’s doghouse. But for Therrien to say what he did points to an unparalleled degree of hypocrisy on his part, not thinking before acting. It’s what he’s famous for, actually.

When he first started coaching the Pittsburgh Penguins, he called out his defense corps in a post-game press conference, saying he really thinks “their goal is to be the worst defensive squad in the league.”

When he was first in Montreal, he even helped to cost the Canadiens a playoff series by taking a penalty himself. In 2002, he argued a call, further enabling the Carolina Hurricanes to come back from a 2-1 series deficit and three goals down in the third period of Game 4 to win that game and the next two.

Even as recently as last Sunday, appearing on talk show Tout le Monde en Parle, Therrien was at it again, playing of all things a harmless word-association game. In response to the names of players, he was to reveal the first thoughts that came to mind.

So, while for Carey Price he said “maturity” and for Brian Gionta “leader,” for defenseman P.K. Subban he said “challenge.” That’s not the worst one. For Lars Eller, he said “needs coaching.” Again, not the worst one. For Tomas Kaberle, he answered, after hesitating and then chuckling, “depth.”

No, Therrien will never be accused of not telling it like it is, but one has to bring into question his motives for so doing.

What good comes out of passive-aggressively letting it be known that an established veteran on your team is not good enough anymore? Announcing that a once-valuable asset is rough around the edges and isn’t as good as his talent level may suggest?

Out of frustration, telling everyone who’s within earshot that a single 24-year-old is responsible for your team giving up a third-period lead for the second time in two nights and arguably the third time in three games after a potential game-tying Ottawa Senators goal was disallowed?

Buffalo Sabre Thomas Vanek scores Thursday's game-tying goal against the Montreal Canadiens.

Therrien could have taken the high road. He could have cast doubt on the legitimacy of the game-tying goal to help protect his player and then undressed him in private instead of publicly implying he’s uncoachable to each of the 29 other teams in the league to which Montreal can trade him (well, not now anyway).

White is not some superstar who’s guaranteed to get back into the lineup eventually. He’s, for all intents and purposes, a spare part rendered somewhat obsolete by the arrival of Brandon Prust. He needs to fight and claw just to get into lineup, even without these incidents.

So, when Therrien publicly stripped down White, he wasn’t calling him out. That’s impossible to do, because, unless he’s screwing up, White will rarely figure into the outcome of a game. If he’s doing his job right, he’s arguably invisible.

As such, even if subconsciously, Therrien was only deflecting blame from himself onto someone else. Sure, Montreal likely would have won had White not suddenly mistaken Ott for a punching bag. But Therrien, who’s still admittedly doing a good job overall this year, needs to learn how to coach his team to better hold onto third-period leads.

So, and not just in regard to White, but in general, Therrien, the Habs' brand-new rehired old head coach, had one worthwhile thing to say on Thursday that bears repeating and even paraphrasing: The more things change, the more they stay the same.

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