Friday, February 11, 2011

Jacques Martin: the new enigma

Jacques Martin likes to think he's a defensive coach. He tries to make his team play a defensive system. He talks a lot about the importance of defense. There's just one problem: the Montreal Canadiens suck at defense.

It seems the Habs play excellent hockey only when they're down a goal or two. As we saw last night, The Canadiens are absolutely terrible when it comes to defending a lead, even against the lowly New York Islanders. What we saw last night should not be tolerated by ANY coach, much less one who preaches defensive responsibility as much as Martin does.
But we've seen this all season long.
So what's the problem?
Martin is just as enigmatic and puzzling as Alexei Kovalev was on his worst nights.
One of two things is happening during Canadiens practices: either the team is or isn't working on defense. Whatever the case may be, this much is obvious:

Jacques Martin can't coach worth a damn.

Whatever he's doing, it's obviously not working. And there's only so much time before we have to collectively say, we've given him enough time to teach the team how to play. If he hasn't accomplished it by now, it's not going to happen.

I don't care if his team has a lot of injuries. I don't care if his players are unwilling to learn.
Something has to change. Either Martin has to start teaching them how to be responsible in their own end, or he has to adjust his system to suit the players he has. If he's unable to do either of those things, then why does he still have a job? If he's unable to make his players care, then we need someone who can.

Habs management is not innocent in this. We can only watch Roman Hamrlik coast by opposing players who are camped out by the net so many times before we ask why he has a job. If veterans like Hamrlik and Scott Gomez can't be bothered to learn how to play responsibly, then it's time to send them down to the minors and call up some younger players who may be able to learn.

But that brings us back to Martin again. What guarantees do we have that Martin will do even a remotely satisfactory job in teaching a youngster how to play defensively?

A lot has been written and said about Pierre Gauthier and his first full year as General Manager of the Canadiens. I will reserve judgement, because Bob Gainey's legacy is still too much a factor to judge Gauthier objectively. Two of Gainey's biggest mistakes, Scott Gomez and Jacques Martin, were not Gauthier's doing, and therefore not his fault. The problem is, Gauthier has to work with the team he inherited, and it's hard to operate under the weight of such two massive albatrosses.

And Martin is indeed an albatross. Watching the Canadiens play this week was like watching pee-wee hockey. But Martin is not  pee-wee coach. He has made a career of stressing defense. But it sure as hell doesn't show.

I'll make a final proposal: trade Jacques Martin for Alexei Kovalev. The Senators can have back the coach who never got them to the Cup final (someone else managed that feat with the perennially-favored Sens), and the Habs can have back the enigmatic winger who frustrated everyone.

Hell, at least when Kovy was good, he was awesome. Jacques Martin really isn't that good a defensive coach even on his best days.

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