Coaching Decisions Costing the Habs

The General Manager gathers the players. The players play and the coaches make the coaching decisions. In order for a team to win games, the GM must get the right players who in turn, must provide their best effort. But if the coach makes the wrong decisions behind the bench, all of this is moot. Often times, coaches get too much credit but sometimes, they don’t get enough blame.

The Canadiens were up to a good start on the road as we’ve touched on recently. But that’s until team head coach Claude Julien made a couple of decisions which might just have cost his team a few points.

The first decision was, in my opinion, to save the best goalie in the world for the home opener when the team faced a more ferocious opponent the night before on the road. It’s no secret that Julien will use both his goaltenders when his team is playing back to back nights. But the choice of playing backup Keith Kinkaid in Buffalo against stronger Sabres just to keep Carey Price for the home opener is a decision that I personally don’t support.

A home opener is only special because there’s a players’ introduction prior to game time. It’s a marketing tool. The game itself is just like any other game. It’s worth two points and those two points are just as important as two points late in the season. It can be the difference between extending the season in April or grabbing the golf clubs… again.

Claude Julien

You have the best goalie in the world. You have got to play him against the tougher opponents and that, regardless of a home opener or not. The goal of any NHL team is to win games and there’s no denying that Price gives the Habs the best chance at winning games. So you play him against the tougher opponents. Period. Is Kinkaid an improvement over Antti Niemi? AndrĂ© “Red Light” Racicot would be an improvement over Niemi the way he played last year. But he’s no Carey Price… far, far from there.

You see, on the second night of a back to back, the team is tired. Your best chance of winning is in the first game. So you go with your best goalie, particularly against a stronger team. On the second night, you hope for the best. People were saying that “they would be mad if they had tickets for the home opener and Price wasn’t in net”. To that I reply: does that mean that Price must be playing every single home game? After all, people buy their tickets for those games too, no? That was a marketing decision going against a hockey decision. They picked the marketing which could have very well cost the team in terms of hockey.

Second mistake

Julien’s second mind boggling decision was not so much to scratch the defensive pairing of Brett Kulak and Cale Fleury in Buffalo and replace them with Mike Reilly and Christian Folin, but to stick with them in Montreal the next day. Three reasons to go back to the Kulak-Fleury pairing:

  • For one, Kulak is the best defenseman today of those four.
  • Two, Julien has the last change in Montreal so he can better control the match-ups for young Fleury.
  • Last but not least, they are fresh, not having played the night before. You have spares Claude, use them!

I know that some folks will think that this is blaming Kinkaid and/or the Reilly-Folin pairing. It’s not the case. Price and fresh players give you a better chance to win. That’s all. The end result of those two questionable decisions is that the Canadiens came out with a single point off a possibility of four, against division rivals, teams who they will be battling with to make the playoffs. That’s not on the GM, nor is it on the players. Those results are solely on the coach. Here’s hoping that Julien minimizes those mistakes so it doesn’t cost his team a playoffs’ berth. Go Habs Go!

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Recent Trades: The Proof is in The Pudding

As a NHL General Manager, sometimes you complete trades that work out for your team, sometimes they don’t. In all cases, the price paid to acquired those new acquisitions is key to determine if it was a good trade or if it wasn’t, how much you’ve lost in the deal. No, that doesn’t apply only to Marc Bergevin and the Montreal Canadiens as every team in the league goes through those assessments and every GM has good deals and not so good ones.

We’ve discussed how disappointing it was to see Bergevin fail to address the team’s biggest needs so let’s not rehash on that. But it’s not like he didn’t complete any deals. He did revamp his bottom-six and added a depth defenseman and those deals seem to be paying off… for the time being.

Here are the trades completed by the Canadiens’ GM leading up to the February 25th trade deadline:

As you can see, Bergevin traded three players who had been sent to the Laval Rockets in the AHL and has added four players to his NHL roster. For the sake of this exercise, we won’t get into what the players shipped out are doing with their new team as that’s not the purpose. The goal is to see if Bergevin has improved his team with the players used by head coach Claude Julien over the players he decided to sit in the pressbox. So here’s the breakdown:

NAMEGPGAPts+/-2019-2020 CONTRACT
Jordan Weal11246+2UFA
Nate Thompson210660UFA
Dale Weise9000-21 year – $2.35M
Christian Folin14044+11UFA
Matthew Peca383710-131 year – $1.3M
Charles Hudon32325-9RFA
Nicolas Deslauriers45213-101 year – $950,000
Mike Reilly573811+16RFA

As we can see, it looks like the trades have panned out so far. Further, Weal (56.4%) and Thompson (55.5%) have helped take some pressure off Phillip Danault (54.7%) in the faceoffs’ circles, particularly in the defensive zone. All things considered, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Bergevin offer contracts to both Weal and Thompson for sure, perhaps even Folin by season’s end.

In order to do that, the team will have to unload some of the NHL contracts for next season, unless Geoff Molson want to have the biggest payroll in the AHL, which already includes Karl Alzner. And Bergevin hasn’t addressed the team’s biggest needs for a left-handed Top-4 defenseman and some help for the powerplay. It will be a busy summer for Canadiens’ GM but then again… when hasn’t he been busy since taking over? Go Habs Go!