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When to Pull the Trigger

Oh, woe is Habsland.

Off to a dismal 1-5 start, good for last in the Eastern Conference. This wasn’t part of the plan was it? You know what they say about best laid plans, but I think even the most optimistic of Habs fans ought to be gripping their blankets a little more tightly this morning.

Yesterday, I brought to light some statistics that Elliotte Friedman posted on his blog (the work was done by an unnamed NHL GM). I won’t rehash those stats again, but needless to say, the Canadiens have about 9 days to pull their act together or acording to the historical statistics, the playoffs may be a fantasy this season. If you did read up on those stats, and don’t put any stock in them, let’s take a different route, but I assure you that neither will leave you wanting to turn to online betting. If you do fancy yourself as an online betting afficionado, perhaps you can place a wager on the Habs chances here.

Last night I had a conversation with a member of Montreal’s media, who triggered the inspiration for this blog post.

If nobody wants to put any stock in to what the unnamed NHL GM dug up, then I offer this as reasoning to be close to hitting the panic button. Last season, the New Jersey Devils got off to a dismal 9-22-2 start under the tutelage of rookie head coach John Maclean (3-8-1 October, 5-6-1 November, 1-8 December). He was mercilessly (mercifully?) fired and replaced with Jacques Lemaire just before Christmas. It took some time for Lemaire to work out the kinks, but he coached the Devils up to a 29-17-4 record, or good for 62 out of a possible 100 points. Included in this stretch was a dominant stretch where the Devils went 22-3-2. The Devils eventually faded and were eliminated from playoff contention in early April. They finished the season a distant 12 points behind the 8th place Rangers.

So what’s it all mean, and how does it apply to the Habs? Well, let’s look at where the Habs are today, and where the Devils were when they canned John Maclean: Last place in the Conference in each case. The unnamed NHL GM’s stats strongly, almost unanimously indicate that being more than 3 points out of a playoff spot on November 1st is insurmountable. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? You would imagine, as I did, that with 5+ months of hockey left to play, that a deficit of 3+ points would be made up for more than twice (TWICE!) since the lockout. But that’s what history says. As for the 2010-11 Devils, a stretch of 50 games under Lemaire where they took 62 out of a possible 100 points was not nearly good enough to get them in to the playoffs. The Devils were on pace for a 102-point season under Lemaire, just to put in to context how well Lemaire had them playing. Are the Habs even capable of playing near that 102 point clip?

Since the lockout, it has taken an average of 92 points to make the playoffs. The most was 94 pts in 2007-08, the lowest was 88 in 2009-10. To hit 92 points today, the Canadiens have to earn 89 out of 152 possible points remaining. That’s a winning percentage of 59%. Not impossible, but certainly very, very tough.That percentage will climb with each successive loss.

So perhaps it may be a touch early to be pushing the panic button, but there are obvious and telling signs that we should at least be worried. I may be offending some people, but anybody saying that “they aren’t worried” is likely willfully ignoring reality. At the least, we should certainly have our fingers primed for some serious button mashing within the next 2 weeks if the team doesn’t turn it around in a big way, for even at the 102-point pace that Lemaire had the Devils playing at, it wasn’t nearly enough to get the Devils in to the post season.

What this all means is that the Canadiens margin for error is nearly completely gone – and that’s just to squeeze in to 8th place. We all know that 8th place teams rarely, if ever realize any true success. But perhaps simply making the playoffs is all this team is capable of. The thought of that, on October 21st, is truly depressing.

The big question we should be talking about today, is what head coach Jacques Martin can do to get this team back on a consistent winning beat. Constant line juggling isn’t working. Passive, defense-first hockey with inexperienced young defensemen isn’t working. Motivation, communication, drive, finish, cohesion, discipline, sustained energy, and execution are sorely lacking. It’s a tall order for Martin to fix considering these are problems he’s had since the beginning of his tenure in Montreal and has been unable to address. Can he fix it in a hurry now that the playoffs are quickly becoming out of reach? Or does Molson have to pull the trigger? Bring on the Leafs!


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