by Carly Prawdzik, Guest Contributor, All Habs Hockey Magazine
In mid-February, the Montreal Canadiens general manager, Marc Bergevin, felt he had no other choice but to relieve Michel Therrien of his coaching duties. If you read my earlier article, “Habs Coaching Decisions From a Different Angle”, you would know I completely agreed with the firing of Michel Therrien.
From a sport psychology standpoint, it was beginning to look (and sound) like Therrien had lost his locker room. One of the biggest tells that there was trouble between players and the coach was when Carey Price stepped out and said in a post-game interview, “we seem to have lost our identity.”
When a leader like Price steps out and says something that negative, many people felt that something big was coming. You could tell the players were no longer feeling valued.
In sport psychology terms, this would be considered the motivational state. A motivational state for athletes is a combination of athlete’s individual disposition (goal orientation) and the situation (the motivational climate created by the coach).
It was clear that Therrien found himself “outside” in regards to the cohesion of the Habs. The players are a close-nit group and they seemed to close Therrien and his coaching ideas out of the locker room. A shake-up was necessary.
Having a team with strong cohesion, Bergevin pulled the plug on Therrien, and who better to put behind the bench? The recently fired, and former head coach of the Stanley Cup-winning Boston Bruins.
In the final months of the NHL season we found ourselves watching the Habs enjoy the success that they had had earlier in the season under Therrien. Why is team cohesion so important, you ask? Team cohesion, which leads to greater self-efficacy, is linked with successful team performance.
Additionally, greater task cohesion is associated with greater psychological momentum. In my opinion, task cohesion is what was missing from the locker room at midpoint of this past season.
Task cohesion is the extent to which each member of the team works together to reach the same goal. The athletes on the team had the same goal, and one would think Therrien had the same goal as well (i.e., making the playoffs and ultimately winning the Stanley Cup).
However, I would like to extend to you the Model of Team Cohesion (Widmeyer, Brawley & Carron, 1985). There are two key dimensions of cohesion: group integration and individual attraction to the group. Both of these categories are then subdivided into task concerns (performance, achievement, productivity) and social concerns (friendships, closeness, etc.).
In my opinion, Therrien may have become overly concerned with task components of team cohesion while the players began to lean towards the social concerns of team cohesion.
What would cause the team to drift away from the coach in regards to team cohesion? There are many factors that influence team cohesion. In fact, there are four subcategories typically discussed in sport psychology: situational, personal, leadership and team factors.
Without NHL experience, I will not discuss situational factors. Many personal factors may have been occurring throughout the season. We watched as Price “struggled” towards the end of Therrien’s reign, only to sparkle almost immediately under the reinstatement of Julien into the Canadiens’ organization. Other players were shipped out of Montreal, but I won’t spend time speculating on the root.
I think the biggest factor may have come down to leadership factors: in particular, the coaches decision style. In my opinion, he may not have been exercising a very democratic style of decision making.
Whenever things were crumbling for the Habs, Therrien seemed to turn to silence as a tool behind the bench. I watched countless games where he paced up and down behind the bench, chewing his gum, red faced and clearly annoyed. That isn’t something we see too much of now with Julien behind the bench.
Pay attention to Julien behind the bench. He, and the rest of the coaching staff, are providing instruction to players on the bench whenever needed, or an appropriate time to do so.
Julien has come back into this organization and solidified the team cohesion for the Habs. He seems to have a clear understanding of the factors that affect team cohesion. In my opinion, he understands that team cohesion is best when players know their roles, and that there needs to be an emphasis on team goals.
Listen to the pressers Claude Julien has pre- and post-game. He doesn’t go in front of the media and call out under-performing players (something that was too common under Therrien for my liking).
When he is asked about a player, he makes sure to address the value that that person brings to the game, even if it isn’t their typical way to contribute to the team (i.e., Pacioretty not scoring during the series with the New York Rangers).
This year may have left many fans with a bitter taste in their mouths. The Canadiens were supposed to succeed and go all the way to win the cup with the big “character” editions to our locker room.
Instead, they were handed an early exit from the playoffs by the New York Rangers. With many players that were traded away this summer still being in the playoffs, one can understand why fans are so discontent with the Habs right now.
From my perspective, with a coaching change mid-season, it would be a bit of a long-shot for Montreal to achieve the ultimate goal. Given the character they have acquired via trade last summer, the new bench boss, and the playoff experience these players have now gained as a team, I am confident that the Canadiens will have a comeback season next year.
Heading into what is sure to be a busy off-season for general manager Marc Bergevin, I remind myself of my favourite line from our new bench boss Claude Julien, “I don’t panic. I fix things.”
As a fan, I am not panicking either. I don’t believe Bergevin needs to rip this team apart. This team has built so much chemistry together. I mean, just listen to each players parting words. With Julien behind the bench, the team cohesion will be a big contributing factor into next year’s successes.
I do, however, believe that there will be a few key trades and signings that will need to happen. I don’t think Bergevin will be able to make a trade for the desperately needed number one centre, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they have already watched someone like Nate Beaulieu’s last game for the bleu, blanc, rouge.
I also believe that Alex Radulov and Andrei Markov will be key re-signings heading into the next season if Bergevin can get them signed. Only time will tell who Montreal will be protecting heading into the expansion draft and thus, who will be leaving the Habs.
With key players like Carey Price, Shea Weber, Max Pacioretty, Brendan Gallagher, Artturi Lekhonen and presumably Paul Byron (among others), a coach like Claude Julien, and Bergevin making the necessary signings, I believe this good team can become great.
I cannot wait to see what Julien can do with a team given a full season that will include training camp. As a fan, I am also excited to see which players will now be interested in signing in Montreal given the change behind the bench.
Edited by Donna Sim