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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.

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