Jack Todd: Habs GM moved too quickly to replace coach Claude Julien


The Canadiens, 9-5-4 under Julien, are now 11-12-5 under Dominique Ducharme — or to put those records in real terms, they’ve gone from 9-9 to 11-17.

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With the habitual clarity of hindsight, it’s clear now that the Canadiens should not have parted ways with Claude Julien.

And that is not necessarily a knock on Julien’s successor, former assistant Dominique Ducharme.

It isn’t simply a matter of how the team was playing. When Julien and Kirk Muller were fired Feb. 24, the entire situation was wrong. The pandemic, the games coming thick and fast, the struggling after a fast start.

But having remade his roster with a series of strong post-season moves, Marc Bergevin wanted to see results, and he wanted results now. The GM who has tended to stick with coaches through thick, thin and foxholes pulled the trigger too soon. The Canadiens, 9-5-4 under Julien, are now 11-12-5 under Ducharme — or to put those records in real terms, they’ve gone from 9-9 to 11-17.

In no metric does that represent progress. Now, the Canadiens find themselves battling for their playoff lives. Following back-to-back losses to the Flames, they’re down to a slender four-point lead over Calgary and it doesn’t get any easier.

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The Canadiens play the Flames again Monday evening, then fly home to face the mighty Leafs Wednesday, the Jets Friday and the improving Senators Saturday on the second game of a back-to-back. They might recover, but it’s also possible they will be out of a playoff spot by the end of the week.

With games every other night and sometimes every night, there has been no time for Ducharme to fine-tune his own system or to alter a team culture that seems bogged down in some mysterious fashion. Like every other coach who has tried to wring something out of Jonathan Drouin, Ducharme has been unable to ignite his former protégé.

If Ducharme is unable to shed the “interim” tag from his title and return next season, it may come down to one fatal decision: separating Jeff Petry and Joel Edmundson to pair Edmundson with Shea Weber after Ben Chiarot was lost to the NHL’s fighting culture. Petry went from Norris track to no track almost overnight.

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It’s cruel, really. A man spends a good part of his life training for this one job and then the job falls on his shoulders in the most difficult of circumstances and things spin out of control. After each goal by the opposition, Ducharme looks down at his tablet, as though he wishes he could vanish into the ether and never return.

It’s not Ducharme’s fault that Brendan Gallagher has a broken thumb, not his fault that Carey Price was hit and concussed in his crease by the Oilers’ Alex Chiasson without a penalty being called, not his fault that a long list of veterans from Weber to Drouin to Price haven’t performed to expectations.

Even with Tyler Toffoli scoring like one of the league’s top snipers and Josh Anderson busting his butt all over the ice, the Canadiens are floundering. They miss Gallagher more than anyone could have imagined. There is every chance they are going to miss the playoffs or (at best) that they will be quickly bounced from the post-season by the hated Maple Leafs.

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At this point, it would appear that nothing less than a first-round upset could keep Ducharme in place for another season. If that’s the case, all Ducharme can do is quote Blue Rodeo: “It’s bad timing, that’s all.”

Meanwhile, in Europe: The most momentous event in sports this millennium occurred last week, when the billionaires who run the top European soccer clubs and planned to start their own Super League were slapped down by the fans and forced to issue abject apologies for their bad idea. It didn’t draw much attention here, but it proved one thing: when they fans act together, they do have power. Remember that when the next Bettman lockout begins.

Lies, rumours &&&& vicious innuendo: Reader Michael Hynes came up with this: The last time the Habs won four games in a row was January 2019 — a stretch of 214 games. Since then, they’ve had one four-game, two five-game, one seven-game and two eight-game losing streaks. …

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I wish Pat Burns had lived long enough to coach Jonathan Drouin. The air behind the bench would have turned the brightest shade of blue. …

The NHL needs to put out a memo, because elbows to the head and face are now clearly legal, but the teams, fans and media have not been informed. …

P.K. Subban’s never-ending pursuit of celebrity can be worse than annoying — for a long stretch, it appeared to actively interfere with his performance on the ice. But last week, Subban put his celebrity to good use when he called attention to his plight, a healthy young man felled by the COVID-19 virus, which, he said, “got right up in my kitchen.”

Heroes: Ash Barty, the Montreal Impact, Mason Toye, Zachary Brault-Guillard, Josh Anderson, Tyler Toffoli, Corey Perry, Rafael Nadal, Alexander Romanov &&&& last but not least, Brooke Henderson.

Zeros: Connor McElbow, Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin, Florentino Perez, Andrea Agnelli, the “Super League,” Claude Brochu, David Samson &&&& last but not least, Jeffrey Loria.

Now and forever.

jacktodd46@yahoo.com

twitter.com/jacktodd46

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