Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Lever And Wilson Dismissed

Lost in the flash and pop of the Canadiens sale was the dismissal of Don Lever and his assistant Ron Wilson from the Hamilton Bulldogs.

Some have questions. Some like Scott Radley of the Hamilton Spectator thinks the Lever move, in particular, was all wrong.

I think the moves are the right ones.

As the Hamilton article states, Lever and his staff did do a good job in Hamilton. Some would say excellent:
Since taking over the Hamilton Bulldogs four seasons ago, he brought this city its first-ever professional hockey championship by creating a game plan uniquely suited to the huge defencemen and technically-superior goalie entrusted to him that season. It's worth noting that along the way he knocked out teams coached by John Anderson and Bruce Boudreau, who both got their shots in the NHL since then.

But forgive me Hamilton, home of many of my friends and family, neither I, nor the majority of Habs fans care the least about championships where you are. For us, that doesn't even enter into the evaluation of Don Lever and Ron Wilson. For me, I'd say there are only two questions:

1) Is he himself a coaching prospect?
2) Does he deliver top players to our club (better than his predecessors)?

I could see myself answering both questions with a yes. More worryingly, I think I could justify two nos. I don't think it would be healthy to keep either coach when he hasn't convinced everyone that he is a firm yes to each question after a four year tenure. That's why the ruthless manager, the one who does every tweak possible and within the rules to win, let two good coaches go this week.

Apparently the way it was done was succinct, even harsh, as per Lever:
"They just said they were going in a different direction," he says. "It was a short phone call."

I generally don't like to leave good and valued employees hanging like that. Most of the time, a dismissal is not done over the phone, let alone in under 5 minutes. But sometimes might it be better? What do I know?

After all, who really wants to hear: "We think you really stalled the development of all those offensive players we hoped would be able to score in the NHL." (that's what I assume would have been said otherwise, reading between the lines). Hopefully the Canadiens will set things straight for the two men later with some kind of wrap and some letters of recommendation.

But what it comes down to for, you see is that Don Lever and Ron Wilson were the Steve Begin and Mathieu Dandenault of coaching. Yes, they did everything that was asked of them. Yes, they did a good honest job while doing it. But they fell short in terms of the outstanding. There haven't been any Calder trophies or scoring leaders. The one all-rookie effort happened on a player sequestered from Hamilton. While there's a good chance the next coach will not be as good as Don Lever. Good at the AHL level is just that – it doesn't seem to translate. And while Calder Cups are swell, you might remember there haven't been any Cups in Montreal during their tenure in Hamilton.

Unlike Hamilton beat reporters, the Montreal Canadiens brass don't worry too too much about how the Hamilton Bulldogs fare in the regular season, or the playoffs either, I'd imagine. For Gainey and co., winning would be nice, but it must be secondary to the development of skills necessary to ply the trade at the NHL level. And while it would be unfair to say that Lever and his assistants have failed in this regard, it can't have escaped the management (or indeed most fans) that when our prospects were making the jump to the NHL they were routinely playing under their expectations – particularly from an offensive point of view. While Plekanec and Lapierre count as Lever successes, I'd be reluctant to lump either Kostitsyn under that heading. And Pacioretty, D'Agostini and most notably Kyle Chipchura have underwhelmed with their habits in the bigs.

Lever and Wilson may both be nice guys, but sooner or later you say good bye if only to try someone else who could threaten to do more.

An eye to the future

While some would infer that the change in direction Julien BriseBois speaks of is veering towards the francophone. I believe that would be a misread – even if Guy Boucher is the man on the farm come September. Especially if Guy Boucher is the man on the farm in September.

If the best way to bring in a coach is from your AHL feeder system. And, if (as we now know) the coach in Montreal will always have to speak French. Then it makes sense for the Canadiens to make this move now.

I'm a fan of Jacques Martin and I wish him the best. But this is Montreal, and unless Jacques pulls off the Dick Irvin miracle tenure, it might be a good idea to start grooming someone that we can actually hire into the big club as soon as possible. I believe that person should be Guy Boucher. So does Arpon, whose opinion I sometimes use to make sure I am not completely off the wall.

I said it before, I'll say it again. I think this new ruthless Gainey is the best thing for this club.

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