An open letter to Michel Therrien

Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports

I think we've all had enough of the bashing and anger, so it's time to look for a resolution and find something that gives us a little bit of catharsis. A dialogue with Michel might do it.

Dear Michel,

I refuse to talk down to you, because I know that you understand what it means to hold that torch. You looked a little awkward when the camera lingered on you while you had it, but we know that you know the importance of holding it high, and what this team means to the city, the province, and the people around the world who cheer for it.

Last year when 24CH premiered, the camera followed you on your route to the Montreal Canadiens' practice facility in Brossard, and you talked about how special you knew it was to get a second chance here, that you knew it wasn't something that happened often, and that it was your dream job.

You also know what it looks like when things fall apart, like they did for you with Montreal before, and like they did in Pittsburgh. Well Michel, things look like they're falling apart again.

I'll admit openly that when you were hired, I was skeptical. The numbers coming in were not good. It looked like you were a disaster from a possession standpoint. But you proved us all wrong with the best season the Canadiens have had since the mid-90's, and we began to really, truly believe.

But after that strong start, Montreal won just 4 of their final 10 games, went out in 5 games in the first round, and have won just 8 times in their first 16 games through the start of this young season.

Through the end of the regular season, there were obvious defensive problems, but I was able to look past that because the Habs were still outplaying teams. During the playoffs, they ran into a hot goaltender and despite completely outplaying Ottawa, couldn't get any puck luck. That was rough to experience but the positivity remained because the process was good.

This year though, after a nice start, the process is no longer good. Not only do you have a 13-17-1 record over the last 30 games, but the possession game is eroding. Last year's sterling 53.6% Fenwick close has dropped to 50.8%, middle of the pack numbers. But that's not the whole story, because for over the last 10 games the Canadiens have been operating at a Fenwick Close clip of 47.4%, positive in just four games.

That isn't the Canadiens that you promised to show us, and it may stem from another problem.

Last night's game against the St. Louis Blues continued a trend that we've seen ever since you took over, and that is to not trust the best player on your roster to do his job. When P.K. Subban first signed his contract and returned to the lineup after missing six games, most people understood that his ice time was lower because no matter how hard he worked out, he wasn't in "game shape".

Then after about seven games people began to wonder what was going on. After Raphael Diaz went down with injury, it looked like you smartened up and started using Subban appropriately, yet he was still seeing less ice than he had under Jacques Martin.

Subban kept stepping up though, doing everything you could possibly ask of a player, putting up egregiously gaudy numbers on both sides of the puck, and winning the Norris Trophy for his efforts.

As the season wore on you used him more often, and in the playoffs he was your most used player, right up there with Andrei Markov. Times were changing, we all thought.

Then this season rolled around, and we have this weird split personality type deployment going on, which I find very hard to understand.

You're using Subban in tough defensive minutes. He had the lowest percentage of offensive zone starts among all defensemen against the Blues. He's dominating in those minutes, and you're usually playing him more than any other defenseman at even strength. That tells me that you understand that he's not only your best defenseman, but your best defensive defenseman.

Yet late in games, you sit him on the bench in favour of clearly inferior players. And it's not like clearly inferior is something I'm saying just to say it, Francis Bouillon and Douglas Murray have been horrendous this season, and you must know this, because you've been sheltering them heavily and their results have still been terrible in every measurable way.

Murray has been the most sheltered player you've used this season, yet he's also produced the worst results. He starts 44.7% of his shifts in the offensive zone, and 57.8% of non-neutral zone starts there (I'm guessing most of his defensive zone starts are due to icings, but because I don't have that data off hand I'll leave this to speculation). While Murray is on the ice, the Canadiens have a 32.1% share of all shot attempts at even strength.

Well he blocks a lot of shots, so that might not tell the whole story, so let's look at unblocked shots. Oh that's weird, his Fenwick percentage is 30.9%, which is even worse. Well maybe his big body presence pushes shots wide. Oh... The Canadiens are even worse from that perspective while he's on, getting just 30.4% of the shots.

Yet you choose to play him in must win situations over a player who has always dominated possession.

And it's not only possession that Subban has dominated, as much as you propagate the falsehood that he's a liability defensively.

Over the last three seasons, Subban has been on the ice for 1.95 goals against per 60 minutes at even strength. Players that's better than? Let's take a look, shall we?

Dan Hamhuis, Alex Pietrangelo, Dan Boyle, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Shea Weber, Drew Doughty, Nicklas Kronwall, Jay Bouwmeester, Francois Beauchemin, Duncan Keith, Dion Phaneuf, Erik Karlsson, Victor Hedman, and more.

All said, Subban ranks 10th among top pairing defensemen in goals allowed per 60 minutes of ice time out of a group of 72, and that includes the largest sample out of that timeframe being the Habs' finishing at the bottom of the Eastern conference.

How can you be a defensive liability when you compare favourably with Zdeno Chara in his prime from the ages of while you're 21-23?

Yet Subban gets held back, and you say that you and Marc Bergevin have a plan for his development. I think we need more than that, Michel.

What do you know that Barry Trotz, Ken Hitchcock, Paul MacLean, Darryl Sutter, and Dave Tippett don't know about young star defensemen? Seth Jones, Alex Pietrangelo, Erik Karlsson, Drew Doughty, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson all get more ice time than P.K. does.

And that was never more evident than last night, against a tough opponent, when Pietrangelo was given free reign to be dominant, and played 30.8 minutes, just under 10 minutes more than Subban. As a result his team was excellent, and your team got curb stomped.

Maybe it was that Subban got hurt blocking a shot that limited his ice time, or when he got boarded? Well, no. After the first period he had seen less ice than both Murray and Bouillon. That's on you, not the circumstances of the game.

So what's the plan, Michel? When you were first hired you said that you wanted to make Subban a better player, and a better person. Apparently how you're going about doing this is to rip him in the media for every mistake, deserved or not, and to never, ever praise him outside of noting that he has physical skills.

When asked if he deserved to make Team Canada, you refused to answer. When asked if you thought he was a world class talent, you refused to answer. Why? Because the answer to both is yes, obviously? Does that undermine what you're trying to do? Do you think he doesn't know?

You might be wondering, "Why should I care what fans/media think?", well maybe it's because we've seen this story before, and we watched the Canadiens collapse into a decade of utter futility because they alienated their star player, and make no mistake, Subban is the star player on this team.

The situation was very different then though. Patrick Roy was volatile, emotional. Mario Tremblay was brought in specifically because the two had feuded before, and management believed that Roy had too much control in the locker room. Roy was pushed, and he broke. He wanted out, he was tired of it.

P.K. Subban is not Patrick Roy. This stuff rolls off his back, at least it appears that it does. P.K. Subban is going to outlast you in Montreal, Michel. He's too good not to, and coaches have a short lease on life. This losing streak you're mired in, it probably wouldn't be taking place if you were leaning on the right players, but you're not.

Yet the possibility remains that the constant limiting of Subban is going to change things. Maybe one day it goes too far, and he decides that he might rather be elsewhere, what would your legacy be in your dream job if that happened?

It's only November, but if you really don't know what P.K. Subban's skills are, or what he's able to do on the ice, and you want to keep your dream job... I would advise you, to tread lightly.

Sincerely,
Andrew Berkshire

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