MONTREAL, QC. — The letters that spell out the word “interim” in the title of Habs Head Coach Randy Cunneyworth continue to increase in font size, and have added both the bold and underlined feature.
I was one of the first persons to show the man my support as he took the reigns of le Bleu, Blanc, et Rouge on December 17, 2011. I was impressed that Montreal had another former-player coach behind the bench. It was a characteristic that I thought would improve team playability because they would have someone who knows the game from the ice-surface up. He is someone who knows what it means to get into the corners, take the bruising, and still maintain the grind.
Then along came factions of the Quebec francophone extremists who decided to picket outside the Bell Center on a Saturday Night – presumably (and ironically) to gain the maximum television coverage on CBC’s English broadcast of Hockey Night In Canada – because they don’t agree in damning the holy grail that is the Sainte Flanelle with an Anglo-only speaking coach.
I sat listening to P.J. Stock that night and for once agreed with him. It was a very rare occurrence. He said he was ashamed to be a Montrealer that night. So was I.
So I continued to pour my support into the new regime that I believed was just around the corner.
I felt pain for this man as he went through the ludicrous controversy that his lack of French speaking ability takes away from the richness of this historical franchise laced with French pride. I felt even more pain as the franchise General Manager publicly hung him out to dry in a press conference where he emphasized the word “interim” in order to stroke the egos of the radical separatist French who were calling for Cunneyworth’s head.
When the team failed at an immediate turn-around, and went 1-6-0 in the month of December under his leadership (with four straight losses to begin his head coaching career), I was behind the Montreal newspapers that placed Cunneyworth in the same elite league as Scotty Bowman and Dick Irvin.
It was just a matter of time.
And then came that ever memorable moment on another HNIC Saturday evening, when Elliott Friedman sat down with the new head coach, and asked him point blank if he felt he would solidify his position and become the full time head coach of the Habs next season.
Correct Answer: No
Through it all, Cunneyworth has done little to turn the team around as far as results go. The team is a pitiful 11-15-3 under his command and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.
There have been some serious questionable coaching decisions that he’s made. Many will point to things such as the increased ice time of Mathieu Darche. That one to me wasn’t a back breaker. Darche was on fire for a bit and was producing results.
His choice of players in the shootout, when Carey Price was clearly struggling in those situations, were poor. He let Cole sit on the side-line while putting Kaberle into the mix against Ottawa, and followed that up against the Penguins giving Kostitsyn and Gomez the nod – while once again Cole and Eller looked on.
Step up to the past two losses against New Jersey and Dallas. In both post-game interviews he went on to say, on the record, that the team wasn’t performing because they were under the weather with the flu, or they were tired. He has tried to emphasize that these aren’t excuses – just part of the equation.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t make six figures as an income (plus plus), but when I woke up this morning I had a sore throat and was pretty tired myself. If it’s not an excuse – don’t bother drawing attention to it. It was clear that the team was out of sorts last night against the Stars. Plekanec didn’t even lace up. But don’t stand in front of the microphone and say there are eight players with the flu, but “it’s not an excuse”. It made him look weak.
This is a team that is clearly undisciplined right now, and giving them any sort of “out” is inexcusable. Are optional practices really what is called for right now?
The Montreal Canadiens team is full of some of the best raw talent around. Players like David Desharnais, Max Pacioretty, Erik Cole, Lars Eller, Josh Gorges, Alexei Emelin, Ryan White, and Carey Price are incredible talents that could and should gel into a championship-ready team.
But there needs to be direction to bring them together and solidify their working relationships. There needs to be strength and leadership from behind the bench that allows for the proper guidance of players like P.K. Subban and Petteri Nokelainen to grow. There needs to be astute decision making into managing the ice time of players like Kaberle, Darche, and Weber.
I’m not trying to place the brunt of the Canadiens errors squarely on the shoulders of their newest and latest coach. I firmly believe that it lies at a far deeper level than that. I will go as far as to say that Geoff Molson has put far too much faith in his General Manager Pierre Gauthier which may eventually come back to damage this team even further. That however is a totally other subject matter worthy of its own post.
In the end, I’m saddened. I love this team. I love this glorious franchise. It baffles me that they let Kirk Muller walk away because we would “never have an Anglo-only coach here in Montreal,” and then they go and place Cunneyworth into a spot behind the bench.
Clearly it all runs a lot deeper than the man alone, who stands behind our team’s bench. Yet I can’t help but find myself on the flip side of the coin from where I was back on December 17. I don’t think that Cunneyworth deserves to become yet another Montreal scapegoat, but as this season winds down to a close, it’s apparent that his response to Friedman was ill-concieved.
There will be no Cunneyworth in the Bell Centre come October of next year. At least not at ice level. And I’m OK with that.