GONE BEYOND THE POINT OF NO RETURN
The problems now facing the Montreal Canadiens in a season that's gone horribly, horribly wrong, has gone from the routine to the profound. This is no longer a team like any other about to miss the playoffs. This is a team that's coming apart at the seams, with its General Manager standing firmly behind a dysfunctionally bad coaching staff, and the head coach willing to publically humiliate and scorn the club's franchise player.
In other words, the Canadiens are no longer playing in a losing environment, but a poisonous one. The possible consequences to this franchise, both short and long term, are dangerous and dire.
It all could have been avoided a month ago. Coming off a New Year's Day trouncing of the Boston Bruins, the Habs seemed to have regained form that had been missing from their game throughout the month of December. There was reason to believe that the swoon was an aberration. But as January progressed, the team went into another losing spiral, culminating in a bad loss 4-1 loss to the same Bruins team, the Canadiens' 5th straight defeat.
Bergevin, perhaps sensing that the vultures were circling, was faced with a stark choice. Either to stand behind or dismiss his beleaguered coach.
The choice, in retrospect, was relatively easy for Bergevin. Even though Therrien had been his hand-picked choice to manage the players less than 3 years previously, and even though he had only a few months earlier extended Therrien's contract through 2018, the public mood had turned sour. For three seasons, the Habs thrived, although many suspected in was in spite of Therrien, and mainly because of all-world performances by Carey Price. With Price gone for most of this season due to a knee injury, the facade vanished. The Canadiens, it turns out, were never a good team after all.
The anxst about Therrien didn't start or end with Price. For weeks leading up to that fateful January 21st day, observers of the team began to question Therrien's game tactics, specifically the manner in how he was allocating ice times for his players. Chronic underperformers like David Desharnais and Dale Weise were regularly getting the lion's share of playing time, while consistent producers, most glaringly Alex Galchenyuk, were often struggling to get top-6 minutes, and on some nights, even top-9 minutes.
So even with the contract extension, Bergevin could have dismissed Therrien, and would have almost certainly retained public support, save for the very small minority of fans that steadfastly believe that coaching has very little to do with the Canadiens' on-ice problems.
However, on that fateful day of January 21st, 2016, instead of taking the easy if not obvious path, Bergevin stood in front of an anxious scrum of media, and gave his coach an unabashed vote of confidence.
Even more fatefully, Bergevin doubled down on his decision to maintain course, full engines ahead, by saying that "regardless of what happens, it's on me."
It was a curious thing to say, even in passing, because not only did Bergevin relieve Michel Therrien of consequences from losing, but made the issue of change revolve around the General Manager's position. Marc Bergevin not only painted himself into a corner, he'd selected the house, the living room and pantone paint colour.
Predictably, save for a brief mini winning streak, the Habs have continued to lose since Bergevin's scrum. The team itself continues to play a dysfunctional game, indicative of bottom-dwellers, the Habs play not to win, but not to lose. The effect has been predictable. Loss piled on top of loss because of silly easily avoidable mistakes by the players. The rot of defeat has infected everyone.
Through it all, Michel Therrien does nothing, or at least, gives off the appearance of someone resigned to defeat. Tired forward lines comprised of players that can't score with each other are tried again and again. Defenders, deathly afraid of getting caught, push pucks, more often than not in futility, up the boards to no one in particular. The goaltenders, fringe NHL backup material at best, repeatedly give up goals that no bonafied NHL netmidner would surrender. The powerplay, now demonstrating nearly two straight full seasons of utter futility, continues to flounder near the bottom of the League.
Through it all, Marc Bergevin stands aside, unwilling to make the ultimate decision to relieve his coach. He's double-downed on his double down. The lines are drawn. There are no consequences for management. Bad decisions on and off the ice, go by the way without repercussion.
Which leads us to last night's debacle in Denver, when P.K. Subban, who by far has been the Canadiens best player this season, who's been on the ice for more than 43% of all Habs goals this season, and on a team that on most nights struggles to score a paltry two goals, sits 4th overall in the NHL in assists. These are outstanding numbers produced by a stellar hockey player. But it doesn't matter. Subban is publically tossed under the bus by his own coach for the crime of trying to win a game for his hockey team.
For Subban, the consequences are dire. Fingers are pointed at him, and he can do nothing, and say nothing in his own defence. Meanwhile, heads around the League turn to Montreal. What the heck is going on over there?
For Michel Therrien? It's just another day at the office. It's nice to have a job where no matter how poorly you perform, no matter what you say, or who you say it to, there are no consequences.
It's been a season of horror for the Montreal Canadiens, unless of course, you're Michel Therrien. If you're him, you're livin' the dream.