A few weeks ago, the Montreal Canadiens’ management team met and decided on a plan for the upcoming trade deadline. At the time, Dominique Ducharme was still the team’s head coach and they were going nowhere but towards the bottom of the standings, in a quest for a possible number one overall pick. Since then, they’ve made a coaching change, bringing in Martin St-Louis, and his hire has completely turned this team around.
The immediate impact St-Louis has had on a few players has been well documented. But his impact on the team’s play is perhaps what’s been most impressive, particularly coming from a coach with no professional coaching experience. Tongue-in-cheek, he was referred to a Pee-Wee coach but the team he inherited was playing like… Pee-Wees.
Change of hearts
Because of the team’s recent success, some fans and members of the media are changing their tunes towards a few players who have turned their season around. Others, who were wanting a complete rebuild just weeks ago, now want the organisation to retool to remain competitive. Forgetting that this very same team has been struggling to make the playoffs the past few years, fans are now more reluctant to change.
Ben Chiarot has been the Canadiens’ most consistent player all season. A pending UFA, everyone wanted and hoped that he would be traded and fetch a first round pick, perhaps more. Today, some want the Habs to re-sign him…
Jeff Petry was having the worst season of his career. He seemed disinterested and his actions made many people question his leadership and the “A” on his jersey. He turned his season around since the arrival of St-Louis and now, some want to keep him…
Brent Kulak, a 6th or 7th defenseman on most teams, has been thought to fetch perhaps a late round pick from a team needed depth for a playoffs’ run. In all of his years in Montreal, he never managed to earn a permanent spot. That’s what he is, at his own public admission. But he has been playing good hockey lately and now, some want to extend him…
Artturi Lehkonen, whom many fans were chastising for missing too many scoring opportunities every year, has now become an untouchable to some. As a pending RFA, the Canadiens don’t have to trade him. But if a team offers a first and a top prospect, they cannot pass on that.
Samuel Montembeault, for some, could take over Carey Price’s position (okay, I’m exaggerating a tad). Still, they are many who think the Canadiens shouldn’t seek an improvement over him (and that’s no exaggeration). Since when should a team stop trying to improve at every position?
And there are other similar examples. If we listened to those fans, the team would be the same again next season. This team fighting to get out of the cellar of the NHL. Why? Because of a good 10-games run in March, when they have no more pressure?
Stick to the plan
The duo of Jeff Gorton and Kent Hughes must stay the course. They cannot afford to change the plan that they had established just a few weeks ago. Unlike some fans and media members, they cannot be blinded by a short positive stretch. They must trust that when they took a step back and focused on the forest instead of the trees in front of them, they saw the big picture. They’re in a clearing right now, but there is more forest on the other side.
They wanted to change the core of this team. They must give themselves some breathing room under the salary cap, therefore unload contracts. They want to have a team with skills, a team that plays fast. They want good skaters and now, with St-Louis, they need players with a high IQ who can rely on their skills’ set and instincts, outside a set system but within a solid structure. They need new blood to do that.
The Canadiens have many prospects, good quality prospects, particularly those not in the pros yet. They are doing the right thing by focussing on their development. As compensation in trades, they are also doing the right thing by seeking players closer to being NHL ready instead of picks. They have 12 more picks at the next NHL Draft.
Continue with the plan. While things weren’t as bad as they seemed all season, they are also not as good as they seem right now. Diverging and changing the plan now would be another huge mistake.