by Carly Prawdzik, Guest Contributor, All Habs Hockey Magazine

Claude Julien (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis via Getty Images)

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.).

A Conceptual Model for Team Cohesion in Sports (Source: Widmeyer, Brawley, & Carron, 1985)

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

  • Philip Turnbull

    the problem was Therrien lost the team last season but MB did not replace his buddy but tried to appease him by giving his what he want and that was PK out of Montreal. Weber definitely is not the long term solution. he is 4 years older and is slowing down fast, thus the reason Nashville dumped him. With 9 years left on his contract and a player with fast diminishing skills Montreal are stuck as no one will help them by taking Weber off their hands. And the fact the Pacs constantly disappears when it counts the most (playoffs) he is becoming a liability and might be better off traded as his leadership ability is not up to par. Depending on the term and dollar amount Rads wants he might be gone. MB has set this team up for failure and he failed to fill the immediate and long term needs of the team and always has an excuse why he can not pull the plug on a trade. Sending Andrigetto to Colorado for their worse player was not a good move..most if not all of his trade deadline acquisitions will not be in Montreal next year. Molson needs to replace MB and bring in someone to turn the ship around and has to forget that a French Canadien is needed and just go get the best & most qualified person available

    • macmandes

      Don’t agree with the Weber assessment, I think he will become like Markov and mellow beautifully. I predict Sergachev will play with him for a certain amount of time next year and with Markov as well. Colorado has a lot better front end players than Montreal and I think they only have him under 6 ft now. Having the same front end in Montreal would have seen him do just as well in Montreal. Montreal has good players, but not as many in the Duchesne, McKinnon, Landeskog type of player. I hope the habs can pick Teraveinen from Carolina or a swedish player Toronto got from Ottawa in the Phaneuf trade I think his name was Lindberg, he played with McCarron in the OHL with Sarnia. Great line. I would trade Beaulieu for him.
      Montreal will get rid of King, Martinson and Flynn. I hope they keep Ott and Mitchell. Play McCarron more on this line.

      • Philip Turnbull

        but Weber did slow down as the season progressed and can not carry the puck out of his zone..he either ices it or gives it away. As 4 Markov i know he wants 2 more years but at the pace he was forced to this year I can not see him lasting more then 1 more year. I think Ott has to go as he has no offensive upside and we need offensive help.As for the players you mentioned there is no chance in hell we will get them. The problem is Josi made Weber in Nashville and we have no that type of player in Montreal as we traded him for Weber. Bergevin did nothing to help us

        • macmandes

          Did he slow down or is it because of his defence pairings, seems to me Markov handled the puck more ( as he always has) than he did is all and Josi might have made it easier for him but it also means to me that he made it easier for Josi because Josi would attack not just because he had more speed, but because he was confident the defensive part of the pairing was taken care of. Josi didn’t score the 20 goals it was Weber.
          I saw that Weber brought exactly what he was supposed to. The drafting of Sergachev made Subban expendable. I only hope that Sergachev is developped properly because he will replace Subban easily if he reaches his potential. I do wish they had Robinson as a D coach to help him, but i feel confident Markov and Weber will be able to guide him. If he has to go to the AHL I wish we had a better coach down there. Weber was brought in for his toughness, his shot and his ability to help clear the front of the net.
          I admit he made mistakes, but a lot less than Subban, as Subban often doesn’t give the puck up to team mates unless he had to and that’s his style of play, but it caused a lot of turnovers as well.

          • Philip Turnbull

            no,he definitely slowed down and Markov had to handle the puck as Weber can not.If you check the defensive numbers of Nashville last year you would see they decreased when Weber was on the ice. I agree he has a great shot and hits hard but he also flops on the ice too much and as the year progressed it took longer to get that big body up from the ice. Also Josi has done great without Weber this year and actually Nashville have the best 1-4 dmen in the league.If you watched the Chicago series PK is given credit for shutting down Toews and they raved about his play at both ends of the ice..so it looks like not Montreal-Nashville won or lost the trade but PK won the trade. I agree that Larry should be the D’s coach and I also hope Sergachev does not end up in the AHL because they will ruin him.the coach down there really sucks. I also agree Markov will benefit the kid.I give Weber one more year but after that his skillset will really start to diminish as he has to put in too many minutes with the defensive corps that montreal has. but the biggest problem is Bergevin has to go..

          • macmandes

            Still not sold on your Weber assessment, I see a good player for the habs and although not with PKs skills, still an excellent defensemen. I agree Nashville has a better top 4 maybe even better top 6 and they have what i can see so far a good chance of winning the cup. PK has been better there than he was in Montreal, but he’s got better support there, I won’t put all that on Weber’s shoulders.

          • Philip Turnbull

            I am not saying Weber is not a good dman but he is not the end all that Bergevin tried to sell us on. MB wanted us to believe Weber was going to take us to the promise land and that he was the one missing piece which we all know is/was bullcrap.But I think the problems with the Canadiens run deep into the management or lack thereof. we are not properly preparing our young guys for the NHL, they need to not only clear out the AHL clubs coachs and such but MB needs to go also.