With another day to kill before the start of game one, I figure now’s as good a time as any to yak about Habs coach Michel Therrien. Some like him, many can’t stand him. For those who value “process over results”, Therrien is the bane of their existence. For the rest, Therrien’s combined 75-42-13 record during his two seasons is proof enough that he’s pushing the right buttons and getting the most out of the team.
While both camps have valid points; valuing results over process is to be ignorant of what makes the Maple Leafs so hilarious to laugh at every year. Teams that rides percentages in either shooting or save percentage (or both) are doomed. On the other hand, the NHL remains a results-driven business, and few have done better than Therrien from a wins-and-losses perspective since the last lockout ended.
The 2014-15 season will be the final season of Therrien’s current contract. His future beyond that will hinge greatly on what happens in this playoff run. If the Canadiens bow out to Tampa with a whimper, the #FireTherrien camp will expect and demand Therrien’s immediate dismissal. If they bow out in a tough, well-played series, calls for his firing will still be loud and clear, no doubt, but won’t be as adamant. Short of a trip to the Cup Finals, there isn’t much that Michel Therrien can do to satisfy his naysayers. From an organizational perspective, if the Habs meekly exit the playoffs, then being bounced easily twice in two playoff years will not bode well for Therrien. He very well may be fired – to the delight of many, but he would certainly start 2014-15 on thin ice if he managed to avoid the axe.
If the Canadiens have a decent playoff run (which I’ll loosely define as a round one win, and at minimum a long, well-played second round, and more likely a second-round series win), then the #FireTherrien crowd will be sorely disappointed. A strong playoff run will not only result in Therrien emerging unscathed, and him starting 14-15 on terra firma, it will also likely see him get a contract extension during the off-season. The always-aware-of-optics Canadiens will not want questions swirling around their head coach when camp breaks, and a coach entering his final season – especially one that irks so many in both the media and fanbase (and perhaps even in the locker room) – will automatically carry the “lame duck coach” label. No team wants that distraction, so a strong playoff showing will probably end that discussion before it even begins. Then we’ll discuss how great or retarded Marc Bergevin is, again.
Personally, I’m not a huge fan of Therrien’s current strategy. The Canadiens have been less exciting and have been playing with fire all season long, with short bursts of hope to a return to playing “sustainable, effective” winning hockey. From last year to this year the Habs switched playing styles, and while the bottom line has been similar, the lion’s share of credit for this year’s success can go directly to Carey Price and the duo of Max Pacioretty and David Desharnais. Still, all teams ask of their head coach is to win games. That’s it, that’s all. They aren’t asked to win games under the constraint of demonstrating strong analytics (as much as we’d all like to see them). Therrien has done that, and in doing so has ticked the only box assigned to any coach. Initially I didn’t see Therrien making it to the end of his original contract, and that still may happen. The toughest road remains in front of him, but he has gone at least halfway in getting an extension for himself.
Cynics aren’t worried about the Canadiens doing well come Wednesday, and hence aren’t worried that the Habs will be toiling under Therrien for much longer. Of course, there are no guarantees no matter what happens. But the convergence of circumstances means that If you’re not a fan of Michel Therrien, this post-season puts you in a tough spot: the better the Canadiens do, the more likely it is that you’ll be stuck with him for the long haul.