By JD Lagrange – When Montreal Canadiens’ GM Kent Hughes decided to hire Martin St-Louis as interim head coach less than a year ago, most people around hockey frowned at the news, understandably so. In spite of having a Hall-of-Fame playing career, St-Louis had never coached professional hockey or even junior hockey for that matter. But seeing the way he turned the Canadiens around last season, the rookie coach not only earned himself a full time coaching job and a new contract, he earned the respect of his fellow coaches and people around the NHL as a head coach.
With that being said, it’s not all rosy. The game against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday was St-Louis’ 82nd game behind the Canadiens’ bench and the team’s numbers aren’t anything to write a book about… yet. And it seems like there’s something that the team’s rookie GM should have done to better support his young coach.
Earlier on, it seemed like the Canadiens were going to continue on their progression from last season, until they hit a brick wall in December. St-Louis’ team is now five games under .500 and the progression of some players appears to have stalled. Here’s where the team stands in a few categories.
As we’ve recently touched on in the mid-season report card, the sole responsibility of these poor numbers doesn’t sit solely on St-Louis and his coaching staff. Players and management also have their share of the blame to shoulder. However, one has to wonder if inexperience and the inability to find solution to the defensive aspect of the team’s issues couldn’t be improved upon.
82 games mark
St-Louis now has exactly 82 games of coaching experience under his belt, the equivalent of a regular season.
If there’s one thing that this management group has overlooked, in my opinion of course, is by not hiring an experience coaching consultant. You have a rookie coach and a rookie GM who cannot help him as he doesn’t know how. St-Louis and his relatively inexperienced coaching staff would greatly benefit to have someone they could lean on to for strategy, running a NHL bench, X’s and O’s, particularly when it comes to playing without the puck defensively.
This person would have to be someone who shares an offensive-minded coaching style, but is analytical and technically sound to help with defensive coverage and find solution for special teams. The best offense starts with a good defense and good transition. Mostly though, someone who has been there and have seen those situations. We’re not talking about taking over the coach here, but a consultant to provide insight… and experience.
I have a few names in mind. There are more. But allow me… in no particular order:
Bob Hartley: He has won everywhere he’s been, both in the NHL and in the KHL. If you listen to him on the radio from time to time, he is insightful and a motivator. Hartley also drove some pretty offensive-minded teams as well. He would have some wisdom and experience to pass on to a new coach.
Guy Boucher: I suspect this candidacy won’t sit well with everyone but Boucher is one of the smartest hockey minds out there. His issue is that his message, as a head coach, gets stale too quickly. But technically speaking, few are better than him at breaking down the game into small pieces.
Larry Robinson: Truthfully, I doubt Big Bird would even consider this position. He seems to enjoy his life the way it is. But I’ve always had a soft spot for the player and the man. Talk about experience and bringing respect though.
Jacques Lemaire: He needs no introduction. He has done it all when it comes to coaching. A brilliant hockey mind, who better to complement St-Louis’ offensive side than someone who knows about everything there is to know about the defensive aspect of the game?
Alain Vigneault: A lot of Habs’ fans don’t like the guy as they remember him for his first pro coaching stint in Montreal, or his comments while coaching Philly. But I’ve witnessed first hand his adaptability while he was here in BC coaching the Canucks. He was a defensive-minded coach, was asked if he could change and turned them into one of the best offensive teams.
Jacques Martin: I’ll be the first to say that I did not like Martin when he was coaching Ottawa and Montreal. Much like Lemaire, he was way too defensive-minded for my liking, with boring hockey. But he does have a lot of experience and like Lemaire, he understand the importance of playing without the puck. He would help bring some suggestions to be more effective in their zone.
I would not want any of them as the Canadiens’ head coach. But as a coaching mentor, where they don’t have the final decisions over the day to day roster and lines decisions (or even systems of play), I think that all of the names above would be a great asset as a mentor to a talented, but inexperienced coaching staff. They would provide insight, ideas and strategies to help be more responsible defensively but ultimately, it would still be St-Louis deciding on the lines, the utilization and the system. I bet that Marty would welcome the insight, and would benefit from a few ideas from any of these guys.