Saturday, December 17, 2011

The System Is Down - Martin Out, Cunneyworth In

In what is sure to generate a lot of commentary from a lot of places this weekend, Canadiens management has signaled the end of the Jacques Martin era and have given the reins to Randy Cunneyworth for the interim. JM is a peculiar kind of coach, and his particular style of play (AKA "The System") has generated plenty of praise and ire from commenters here and around the web. I, for one, am not sorry to see him go.

I've never made it much of a secret that I'm no fan of JM and his System. I find it's boring and frustrating to watch, and more importantly, it's predictable to opponents and sometimes stifling for talent. I'm not saying that Gomez putting up garbage numbers is somehow Martin's fault, but I feel like Kostitsyn for one might have developed into an even better player had he seen more time on the ice the last two seasons. I also hate Martin talking about puck possession when he will let opponents have it enough to pepper his goalie with 50 shots while seeming to discourage physical play.

My take is that through most of his tenure, Martin has kept 2 scoring lines, a checking line, and another line consisting of people that had pissed him off lately. Obviously, AK46 spent a lot of time on that line. The emergence of a third scoring line this year has been a welcome surprise to us, but may have confused Martin—how is he supposed to punish players like Kostitsyn when he ends up skating with Eller and Desharnais to become one of the stronger threats we've iced this season?

Well, you could always break up the trio. Martin seems opposed to the whole idea of consistent lines and letting players develop chemistry. I'm not a big fan of this idea. I think players are better as they get to know each other and where each other like to be on the ice. I think physical play is an enormous part of hockey, and that the Canadiens are rightly criticized for being soft on their opponents at times. The System discourages things that aren't collapsing into your zone, like making your man pay the price for crossing your blue line or delivering the kinds of punishing hits Emelin is becoming known for. The lack of physicality allows opponents to take certain liberties, like running Price and and coming across our blue line with their heads down.

This is a better team than last season in my opinion. We have more offensive weight and are just as good in the back. Price is playing well and so are key players like Plekanec, Subban, Gorges, and Kostitsyn. We've had a number of players performing well-above my expectations, like Desharnais, Cole, Pacioretty, Weber, Diaz, and even Emelin. I have a hard time believing a coach can't do more with this squad compared to last season's.

We'd like to see more from Gomez, obviously, and Cammalleri and Gionta haven't been performing to their normal standards. Is this a coaching issue? I have no idea. We don't seem to be able to finish adequately around the net, either. We still seem tired and out of shape at times, and have trouble playing 60 full minutes. After several years of being one of the better power play teams in the league, we've suddenly forgotten how to use the extra man. Are these coaching issues? Obviously we can't tell at this point, but I'm inclined to say 'yes'.

With a new coach we'll find out the answer, and here we can let speculation run wild. Will Cunneyworth be left in charge for the long-term, or will Habs management be on the phone with Bob Hartley all year? Will the team get better without JM, or should we have held on to him for just a little while longer? Does Gauthier regret letting Guy Boucher go to Tampa, or is he still laughing over the Philly incident? How bad will the RDS rants be about Cunneyworth's poor French and his Toronto roots?

My take is that the team will improve, but more because things aren't about to get much worse. I've been seeing a team that does a lot of things right but just isn't getting the wins. I think they would have started coming in even if JM stayed on, but maybe they'll start coming a little quicker and more often under Cunneyworth. Let us know your take on the firing and what's next for the CH.

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