As a French Canadian and general enthusiast of anything relative to the words “hockey” and “poutine,” it’s safe to say that I’m a self proclaimed Habs fanatic.
The last time the most decorated franchise of the North brought home the coveted Stanley Cup, I was two years old (though I assure you my diapers sported a Habs logo).
It’s now been almost two decades since the Canadiens have won it all, the longest drought in team history. With a Conference Finals run two seasons ago, the smell of polished silver and champagne teased our nostrils, as we all hoped head coach Jaques Martin would valiantly lead our soldiers to face Chicago in what would have been an Original Six Cup Final to go down in history.
Instead, the Canadiens came up short, a pattern that’s come to not only personify the Habs of late, but one that’s plagued Jaques Martin his entire career. The fault does not solely lie on Martin’s shoulders, but here’s a short list of why he’s NOT the coach the Montreal Canadiens need to help them end this prolonged Stanley Cup dry spell.
There’s no doubting that Jaques Martin has had a successful career on paper, winning four division titles, one President’s Trophy and becoming the ninth coach to hit the 600 win milestone.
The only problem is that hockey is not played on paper and while his achievements prove to be impressive, all it really demonstrates is that he can’t win the big game.
In 16 seasons as a head coach, he’s missed the playoffs only four times. Of those 12 playoff runs, only twice has Martin lead his team to a Conference Final, losing a crucial Game 7 to the eventual cup winning New Jersey Devils in 2003 and winning only one game against the Flyers two years ago.
Martin’s eventual legacy may go down as the best coach to never win a Stanley Cup and for blood-thirsty Habs fans with a hunger for their 25th Championship, that simply won’t do. He has to prove he can win when it matters and to this point, it just has not happened.
In the early 2000’s, the Ottawa Senators sported one of the better teams in the NHL. Run by Martin, the team’s roster included players like Daniel Alfredsson at the peak of his career, a young Jason Spezza, big Zdeno Chara, Marian Hossa, Martin Havlat, Wade Redden and the list goes on.
This club seemingly should have been unstoppable, putting up 48 wins in 2001, 52 wins in 2003 and adding to a streak of nine straight playoff appearance in Ottawa. In my humble opinion, the Ottawa Senators of the Martin were most definitely deserving of hoisting the Stanley Cup. But they didn’t. So what went wrong?
While problems involving bankruptcy plagued the franchise in these years, some say that off-ice issues distracted the team from becoming contenders. I say it was Martin, as only two years later, the Senators advanced to Cup Final under Bryan Murray.
Though the team did acquire superstar Dany Heatley after the departure of Martin, there’s still something to be said about his inability to push his team into the late rounds of the playoffs, even more so when his successor is able to in a short period of time.
The bond between culture and sports is perhaps more sacred with the Montreal Canadiens than any other franchise ever. To be a Hab is to be part of the Canadiens' pseudo-universe, a land where names like Rocket Richard and Guy Lafleur are more beloved than say, Steven Harper or Gandhi.
However, the most holy attribute of all is Montreal’s link to French-Canadian culture. As the only team in Québec, a large majority of their fan base is francophone and takes pride in being a bilingual team. This proves to be why fans love Jaques Martin, a life-long francophone. He serves as an ambassador to the French community and their following.
The problem here is that as thrilling as it may be to have a bilingual head coach, he’s paid to win hockey games, not give us grammar lessons. In upcoming years, if Martin can’t seem to solidify a decent regular season and expand on his “defense first” mentality, it won’t matter if can speak Mandarin, this team wants wins.
I understand that Scott Gomez, a man who some thought was the answer in Montreal (though I never did) is a recurring topic for Montreal Canadiens fans everywhere.
In 2011, Gomez made millions, eight to be exact, a hefty price considering it's one more than the total of goals (seven) he scored the entire season!
For that much money, we could've had two Dustin Byfuglien's and an Alexandre Burrows, with enough change to buy a Root Beer on the way home. At this rate, Habs fans everywhere may celebrate more frantically when Gomez's never-ending contract is up than if we ever win another Cup.
Gomez remained a top two center in 2011, despite the worst season of his career, though he was sent down to Hamilton for a stint as result of his poor play. Still, that didn't stop Martin from playing him relentlessly in the playoffs, starting all seven games, netting not one goal and ending with a minus-six overall.
Martin needs to find a way to light the fire under Gomez's skates or limit his ice-time significantly next season. His failure to do so will mean yet another colossal waste of cash and ultimately hurting the team's chances at advancing in the playoffs.
Jaques Martin is a defensive-minded coach, relying heavily on strategies that limit puck possession in the defensive zone, while making the most of fast-breaks and scoring opportunities.
This worked well for Martin in his days with the Ottawa Senators, as their defensive core was strong and the team also possessed the offensive prowess of Daniel Aflredsson, Jason Spezza and Mike Fischer.
The Montreal Canadians are an entirely different story, with a shaky defense and small but agile forwards. The team lacks an offensive powerhouse and Martin has seemingly done nothing to compensate for this. The team ranked 22nd overall in goals-per-game in the regular season, the worst of any playoff team other than Los Angeles.
Also, for a team that seems to rely on defense, Montreal fell short in the playoffs, constantly leaving opposing players in front of the net and seemingly unable to get the puck of their own zone.
The result was a first round playoff loss, one that came at the hands of eventual cup winners Boston, on a goal from Nathan Horton in overtime that never should've scored. In the video above, watch how many times The Canadiens are unable to dump the puck out of their end, fumbling in the corners and eventually giving the Bruins the game.
Martin can not win in Montreal unless he adjusts and finds a way to generate offense and play sound defense in his own end.
The Montreal Canadiens fan base is known for its dedication, along with its tenacity. It's not unusual to see items hurled on the ice after a blown call at the Bell Center, signs ridiculing opposing players and celebrations that resemble war rallies, rather than hockey victories.
While it gives the players incentive to win, it also puts an immense pressure on the entire organization. Very few members of the Canadiens, be it players, coaches or general managers get second chances in the land of the Habs.
Jaques Demers was the last coach to bring the coveted Stanley Cup to the city of Montreal in 1993. Since then, Montreal has seen eight coaches come and go, not one of them lasting over three years with the club.
The 2011-2012 season will be Jaques Martin's third season as head coach. Unless he can prove that he can figure out a way to score more goals, get a push out of Gomez and make a deep playoff run, I don't see any reason to believe that history won't repeat itself.