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Is Therrien the right coach for Montreal?

Aug 24, 2014, 10:00 PM EDT

Michel Therrien AP

Montreal Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin maybe “lost” a bit in playing salary chicken with P.K. Subban, but his moves have mostly been solid-to-very-good. Age alone argues for P.A. Parenteau over Daniel Briere while other subtle moves – Max Pacioretty‘s $4.5 million cap hit will probably look better and better before it expires in 2019 – speak to a general air of competence.

At some point, Bergevin might be forced to answer this question in a more confrontational way: is Michel Therrien the ideal head coach for the Habs?

The answer might be more complicated than both the pro and anti-Therrien camps might suggest. Habs Eye on the Prize’s Andrew Berkshire does a fantastic job of succinctly describing the dichotomy that is Therrien as Canadiens head coach 2.0:

Michel Therrien has been a Jekyll and Hyde coach for the Montreal Canadiens.

He was brilliant in his first regular season, the lockout-shortened 48-game shocker that saw the Canadiens leap from 15th to 2nd in the eastern conference. In his second season, he was a league-wide punchline, continually benching his Norris winning defenseman, and deploying a strategy that saw the Canadiens record the biggest year-over-year possession collapse in league history.

“In league history” could be misleading since possession stats haven’t been tracked for particularly long and Berkshire points out that Therrien returned to the style that worked well in 2012-13 once the 2014 postseason rolled around, but it’s still food for thought.

Disciplinarian or merely stubborn?

As an “old school coach,” many might expect his teams to be defensively sound, but with a more widespread belief that possessing the puck is more better than merely playing it safe, the picture is fuzzier.

Even beyond tactics, there’s the very real question of what kind of relationship Therrien has with $9 million man P.K. Subban. It’s not just about harsh quotes to the media in this matter; there have been some questions about whether Therrien will deploy the star in a way that makes sense for a guy who, you know, makes $9 million.

There are at least some who believe that Therrien has matured over the years, as this National Post story discusses.

“Honestly, when I look at Mike … I’ll start smiling,” Former Therrien player Terry Ryan said. “Because I know that he grew a lot as a person. And I’m proud of him.”

Ryan wasn’t exactly uniformly warm toward his former bench boss in that piece, yet many believe that fear is a better motivator than love (see: successful sports figures ranging from Bill Parcells to, some extent, Scotty Bowman).


The bigger questions about Therrien’s adaptability revolve around how he uses players, and Bergevin might have cleverly forced Therrien to dress more talented players by simply getting rid of arguably overly emphasized players like Douglas Murray, Josh Gorges and even Brian Gionta.

However you might feel about Therrien, it’s difficult to argue with his results from the 2014 postseason. Head coaching gigs in the NHL are rarely safe, however, and the Canadiens would be wise to survey if he’s really the right fit in hockey-mad Montreal.

  1. leepetertk - Aug 24, 2014 at 10:16 PM

    This article doesn’t address the struggle Montreal has finding a bilingual coach. If Therrien is the wrong fit for Montreal (as they describe), finding an appropriate replacement French-speaking coach that satisfies Quebec politics is a major stumbling block (see Randy Cunneyworth). When Therrien was hired, you could say he was the best available French-Canadian coach available (Claude Julien and Alain Vigneault both had stable jobs, Patrick Roy was coaching junior, and Jacques Martin was just fired). Hopefully the team can one day overcome the French-speaking politics that plagued the Randy Cunneyworth year. Saku Koivu and Brian Gionta being team captains are evidence of that,

    • James O'Brien - Aug 24, 2014 at 10:21 PM

      That’s a good point, although perhaps the organization would be bold enough to just take the flat-out best coach possible? Risky, no doubt, but it is 2014.

      (Not that Therrien can’t work out anyway, mind you.)

      • phtjoey - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:51 PM

        Caps (Oates), Leafs (Carlyle), Canucks (Torts), Oilers (Eakins) all hired the best available coach. how well did that work out for them?

    • phtjoey - Aug 25, 2014 at 8:06 AM

      “Satisfy Quebec politics” really? How about satisfying the fanbase in Quebec? Seems to me it’s pretty important to connect with all the French and English fans if you want maintain and grow your fanbase.

      • thudgeon - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:58 AM

        I wonder how many English coaches in the league speak passable french? I know Crawford does, but i’d wager few others do. I don’t think the coach necessarily has to be french, but he has to be able to speak decent french in order to communicate with the french media. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this prerequisite in my personal opinion.

      • leepetertk - Aug 25, 2014 at 4:25 PM

        Is winning or speaking French more important to connecting with your fanbase? Absolutely it is possible to get both (so many successful MTL coaches in the past). Michel Therrien may indeed win or go deep next year. It is also possible to have neither. Management needs to make the call of who they think will perform the best (wins and losses) for their team. In the case of Therrien, it is debatable what management thought after the Cunneyworth fiasco.

        Montreal could hire an english-only speaking coach and a translator to stand next to him during media scrums. Is that such a disconnect for French-speaking fans? Americans Ron Wilson and John Tortorella coached Canadian teams (TOR and VAN). Did that fanbase feel disconnected from the team because an American was the coach?

        The fans need to judge a coach based on the job he does (wins and losses) instead of his cultural identity.

      • phtjoey - Aug 25, 2014 at 4:37 PM

        Fans don’t judge a coach based on his cultural identity. Montreal Canadiens play in a predominantly French speaking market. It therefore makes sense to hire a coach who can speak publicly in the local language. It doesn’t matter if he’s American, Swedish, Chinese, or any other origin if he speaks French. Wilson and Torts spoke English which make your point irrelevant.

      • leepetertk - Aug 25, 2014 at 8:44 PM

        Mike Keenan didn’t speak any Russian. KHL team hired a translator for him to talk to the players and talk to the media. He just won the KHL championship last season in a Russian market. Why can’t this happen in Montreal? How many fans actually get to talk face-to-face with the Canadiens head coach?

        The fans/media/politicians undoubtedly judge a coach based on his language. A coach isn’t even considered if he/she doesn’t speak French.

      • phtjoey - Aug 25, 2014 at 9:04 PM

        it wouldn’t work in Montreal for the same reason having a non English speaking hockey coach wouldn’t work in Toronto, NY, or any other NA city.

  2. puckyou14 - Aug 24, 2014 at 10:49 PM

    Don’t like the Habs but he seems like a good fit there. only time will tell.

  3. montrealknowledge - Aug 24, 2014 at 10:58 PM

    Take “best coach” that will never happen, too much of the paying fan base speak French, they want to be able to hear French sound bites from interviews. French media wants easy access and not need a translator to get quotes. It is ridiculous here, you can’t understand unless you have seen it. Therrien might be the right coach at the moment. As for Roy, yeah he was coaching in juniors, but HABS made zero effort to get him here. They could have done what the Avs did.

    • thudgeon - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:56 AM

      Who is to say that Roys coaching is what pushed the Avs over the top (And to an early playoff exit)?They did what they did last year on unsustainable goaltending and a couple of sensational youth performances, much like Ottawa did two years ago. Sure he got the Jack Adams, but next year could be a totally different story if Varlamov is even mediocre.

      I don’t think you can fault Montreal for not going after Roy. He was an unproven NHL coach and would be an absolute lightening rod for criticism if the team did not get off to a solid start.

  4. succulentnipples - Aug 24, 2014 at 11:34 PM

    Big Johnathon Football is the right one.

  5. blomfeld - Aug 24, 2014 at 11:35 PM

    Il est le choix ‘faux’ pour l’entraîneur des Habitants Les ‘glorieux’ et donc il doit être terminé ‘aussitôt que possible’ avec le préjugé dû!

  6. kingsfan93 - Aug 25, 2014 at 12:59 AM

    Let start stirring the soup begin now.

  7. danieledouardlafontaine - Aug 25, 2014 at 7:41 AM

    Guy Boucher is free now and he knows the org. Hartley was free for a while before he got picked up by Calgary.

  8. dueman - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:19 AM

    He’s done very well so far. We’ll see how he responds to Bergevin trading away his go to guys. Toronto has done the same thing with Carlyle in trading Gunnarsson, and letting Kulemin, and McClement go. Both are old school coaches that don’t like to use their young guys a lot, and I think that in both cases that Management wants to see more of their future players getting more ice time.

    One good thing that I can say about Therrien, aside from his winning record, is that he really knows how to get his players going. Unfortunately for him though is that, when his players get going, there are a couple (I’m trying to be nice here by not pointing out any ONE player in particular) that seem to do really dumb things at really bad moments.

    The media in Montreal is just as bad as the media in Toronto. They both like to whine and cry about every little thing. Talking about the good things about a coach, player, or the team in general, is just not in their nature, so I don’t really go by anything they have to say. From what I have seen myself though, I’d be more than happy if he were the coach of my team, and I think that Montreal is, and will continue to do very well with him behind the bench.

  9. thudgeon - Aug 25, 2014 at 11:49 AM

    The results speak for themselves. While Andrew is complaining about possession numbers, the Habs are making their furthest playoff run in two decades, finishing the regular season on an absolute tear with what many regard as a mediocre team (With lots of heart, mind you).

    In regards to Subban, IMO they were keeping him on a leash to try to reign him in a bit. He opens up his game too much sometimes and when he does good things rarely happen. When Subban keeps it simple he is among the best D in the league. When he starts taking risks he starts making big mistakes that cost the team. That is why I have always hated the ‘High Risk, High Reward’ description, because that isn’t, and should not be, what a Norris defenseman is about. His first pass is exemplary and his shot is an absolute bomb. When he tries to go end to end, however, bad things usually happen (Save for some extremely rare goals).

  10. clpalermo94 - Aug 26, 2014 at 7:03 AM

    I think for now he is. In montreal its always what have you done for me lately and lately he took the team to the conference finals so yea hes the guy. For now

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