Montreal Canadiens: 5 Bold Explanations for Their Worst Start in 70 Years
The Montreal Canadiens are on the verge of their worst start in the last 70 years.
That is quite ironic considering that the local media has been bragging for months about the Canadiens roster which was supposed to be the best on paper in the past several years.
In the offseason, GM Pierre Gauthier decided to let go two of his best defenseman in Roman Hamrlik and James Wisniewski. He instead decided to sign 32-year-old Erik Cole to a very lucrative contract.
However, in their most recent losses, Jacques Martin often opted to go with journeyman Mathieu Darche on the power play instead of Cole.
Am I missing something? This is supposed to be the best recent teams in Montreal, and they are on their way to achieve one of the worst starts of their glorious history.
Gauthier sacrificed two of his defensemen and brought in an overachiever in Cole. However, coach Jacques Martin chose the 34-year-old Darche over him. Cole might be overrated, but Darche has only 61 career points.
Montreal can still turn its season around, but it will have to make key modifications in order to achieve its goal.
No. 1: Jacques Martin Needs to Be Fired
The Habs are currently sitting dead last in the Eastern Conference. Actually, they didn’t win against a single team that was in the league last year. Their only win was against Winnipeg, which is currently in front of the Habs in the rankings.
In the entire league, only Columbus does worst than the mere four points earned by the Canadiens. Facing a single win in eight games, and none at home, fans are already proclaiming they want the demission of head coach Jacques Martin.
It is very unlikely that GM Pierre Gauthier will fire Jacques Martin anytime soon. Their relation started many years ago while both were working for the Ottawa Senators. Martin is a dear friend of Gauthier, and it will take much more than a bad start to cost him his position.
However, in today’s sports era, coaching changes are sometimes the only way to light the fire in the eyes of the players. Does Jacques Martin seem in control of this locker room and situation? I don’t think so. Yes, there are injuries, but the Penguins are without Malkin and Crosby, and they keep winning every night.
Actually, in 2009-2010, his first season as the Habs coach, Montreal started with only two wins in seven games. Montreal reached the Eastern Conference finals that year.
It is not only Martin’s fault, but Gauthier needs to find a way to wake up this team. Michel Therrien is waiting for the job; make him the new coach.
No. 2: Carey Price Needs to Steal a Few Games
Carey Price has a 3.13 GAA and .878 save percentage. Everyone agrees to say that he isn’t to blame. However, sooner or later, he will have to steal some games for his team. He hasn’t been bad, but hasn’t been great either.
Each time that the Habs had a solid season, they needed a hot goalie to achieve it.
In 2001-2002, they reached the conference semifinals after defeating the powerful Boston Bruins. Jose Theodore was the key player that year. He had a 2.11 GAA, seven shutouts and a solid .931 save percentage.
Theodore had another great year in 2003-2004 by recording a 2.27 GAA, six shutouts and a .919 save percentage. The Habs reached the conference semifinals that year.
In 2009-2010, the Canadiens reached the conference finals mainly because of Jaroslav Halak. He had a solid year with a 2.40 GAA and five shutouts.
In 2010-2011, Price started 70 games and recorded a 2.32 GAA while earning eight wins by shutout.
Clearly, Carey Price needs to start being more than OK. He needs to be great in order for the Canadiens to at least make the playoffs this year.
No. 3: Erik Cole Needs to Be Involved
Erik Cole has a cap hit of $4.5 million, but is being paid $6 million this year. After eight games, he has only two points and he has a minus-four rating. However, Jacques Martin is only giving the nine-year veteran an average of 14:41 minutes of ice time per game.
Even in his rookie year, Cole had more ice time than he does right now. Last year, he averaged more than 18 minutes of ice time. How do you expect him to succeed if you don’t send him on the ice?
Cole might be overrated and injury prone, but he is one of your best options right now. You don’t bench the guy after only a few games, not when your job is in jeopardy.
They made an error by signing him. Now, they make an error by benching him. What is wrong with this team?
No. 4: Specials Teams Must Be a Priority
The Canadiens are No. 29 for the power play (9.4 percent) and No. 20 for the penalty killing (80 percent).
There’s a simple rule in hockey. If you want to be in the playoffs, the sum of your power-play percentage and penalty-kill percentage must be 100 or greater. Right now, the Habs are way below that number with a poor sum of 89.4.
It has to change. However, if we look at their practices, it seems that this is not a top priority for Jacques Martin.
On Saturday, a reporter asked Martin why Darche was on the power play instead of Cole. Martin was arrogant in his answer and laughed at the reporter by telling her that Cole only had three power-play goals last year. He told her that she should make some research before asking questions.
However, here’s my question to Mr. Martin. How many career goals has Mathieu Darche? The answer is quite simple. Darche has 26 career goals and only three career power-play goals. Do you even expect him to score?
Also, Gauthier and Martin let James Wisniewski sign with Columbus. Wisniewski had seven power-play goals last year and 29 total points on the power play. Actually, the defenseman has over 100 total points in three seasons.
Instead of signing him, they took his salary to sign Cole and to make him sit on the bench. No wonder why this power play doesn’t work anymore. First, practice it. Second, send the right players on the ice.
No. 5: Change Must Be Made
When Travis Moen leads your team with four goals, you know that something is wrong. Change has to be made, but can barely be made.
Pierre Gauthier won’t fire Jacques Martin, so there’s no coaching change.
Pierre Gauthier won’t send Scott Gomez in the minors, so there won’t be any cap room for a major trade.
On Monday, Gauthier was making some calls in order to find help on defense. However, the Lightning and the Rangers are also looking for help. There aren’t many available players at that time of the year, and with a small cap room and nothing to give in return, don’t expect any significant help from a trade.
Gauthier could call some minor league players, but with all the injuries; there aren’t many options left there either.
Gauthier’s two viable options to wake up this team are to send Gomez in the minors and fire Martin. Change must be made, but I doubt anything big will happen. Blame the GM for being gutless, and no one else.