Canadiens Head Coach Jacques Martin: Playing Favorites?

Rosalyn RoyContributor IIIOctober 23, 2010

MONTREAL, QC - SEPTEMBER 24: Head coach Jacques Martin of the Montreal Canadiens watches the action against the Ottawa Senators at the Bell Centre on September 24, 2010 in Montreal, Canada. The Canadiens defeated the Senators 4-2.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Outside of his hard work ethic and his ability to chill without complaint in the press box, I just don’t get Mathieu Darche. What else does he bring to the Montreal Canadiens, who re-signed him for league minimum to another year?

He’s weak defensively and offensively. He’s far too slow on his skates compared to the rest of the team. He’s a perimeter player, a fourth line grinder who can log minutes when someone goes down to injury.

The thing is, no one is currently injured, and Darche is about to see ice-time again tonight as the Habs gear up to take on the Ottawa Senators at Scotiabank. Cooling his jets this evening will be Dustin Boyd.

Boyd is, without question, a better skater and a better grinder, with more skill and ability than Darche. He’s also got a bigger cap hit, the same solid work ethic and is not currently injured.

This is Jacques Martin, playing one of his favorites. I saw it last year with Marc-Andre Bergeron too, and I didn’t like it then either.

Even when Bergeron was constantly turning over the puck, throwing blind passes through the neutral zone, and failing to keep the puck in the offensive zone, Jacques Martin kept him on the ice and kept Ryan O’Byrne in the press box.

Speaking of Ryan O’Byrne, is he even still on the team? If he is, I suspect he won’t be for much longer. He’s assumed the role of Sergei Kostitsyn, which means he’s now the Alpha Dog in Martin’s doghouse. I’d bet serious money he’ll be offloaded before the trade deadline, and it’s really to his benefit, because he will never fulfill his potential under this coach.

Also unlikely to fulfill his potential under this coach is Benoit Pouliot. He’s got top-six potential and was not drafted or projected to be a third or fourth line grinder. It’s the same with Lars Eller. Yet Martin seems to think that instant magical chemistry will develop for the second line with Travis Moen, Tom Pyatt or even Darche before it will develop with Pouliot or Eller.

Pouliot and Eller are the only two on the roster with the skill set to potentially compliment the Scott Gomez–Brian Gionta pairing. But Martin seems to have little to no faith in the two youngsters.

I thought Martin was hired in part for his ability to get the best out of young prospects and help their development. I don’t know what Martin did for Spezza, but I do see what he’s doing with these kids, and I don’t like it.

This year, goaltender Carey Price’s confidence is growing, as it should. He’s a solid goaltender who can and will morph into one of the greats as long as he doesn’t keep getting pulled in favor of his backup. That's an option Martin no longer has, thanks to the trading of Jaroslav Halak, and Price will benefit from that more than anything Martin really does.

Jacques expects too much, too soon, out of players that need nurturing, not constant punishment. Make no mistake, demoting Pouliot to the bottom two lines is not a show of confidence in his abilities.

Pouliot, to his credit, is working hard and is near the top of the league in hits, averaging three per game. He packed on 12 pounds of muscle in the offseason as his coaches asked and is more likely than not to battle for the puck to try to force a turnover. His effort and hard work are a refreshing change.

It’s not getting rewarded. I’ve never been a fan of the kid because I’ve always thought that while he had the potential, he lacked the focus and desire. I don’t really believe that anymore.

When I first started my current job, it took me weeks to find and follow the rhythm of my co-workers, to step into their groove and follow their lead. Now I do it without thinking.

If Martin wants chemistry on the second line, he might want to try giving it more than three lousy games to develop.

I’d also really like it if he’d stop playing favorites with his roster. It might not be the biggest problem the Habs have right now, but I fail to see how it helps anything to send that kind of a message.