Michel Therrien's player usage

Joel Auerbach

There are a lot of people who seem to be freaking out over Michel Therrien's player usage this past season and what that means for the coming year, but should they be?

After Corey Pronman released this article yesterday on overused and underused forwards in the NHL, there was quite a bit of hand-wringing among Montreal Canadiens fans and media. Specifically, Alex Galchenyuk and Brendan Gallagher were extremely underused by Michel Therrien in comparison to their point production. Pronman rated them as the 3rd and 5th most underused forwards in the league.

In a conversation stemming from this post, Arpon Basu went out and found that Brendan Gallagher had just a single shift in overtimes all season:

We could also add fuel to the fire here and mention that P.K. Subban was terribly underused for half the season, likely in no small part to missing training camp and six games due to his contract negotiations extending into the season.

What does this mean? Well, obviously there's a significant amount of fans who will say it means that Therrien is an idiot, however this is a poor conclusion to jump to.

I'm far from a Therrien apologist, and many on EOTP were very critical of some of his usage during the season, but it's important to remember that Michel Therrien has been coaching this team for 53 games. He had no preseason, he had an extremely abbreviated training camp, and he had two rookies that weren't expected to play in the NHL this season in key roles.

Though opinions on his tenure are very divided, most fans would agree (I think) that Jacques Martin was a pretty good judge of talent and player usage. Yet, in his first season as coach of the Montreal Canadiens, Tomas Plekanec was used less often than Scott Gomez, and Mike Cammalleri was the most used forward on the team at even strength. I'm a pretty big fan of Cammalleri as a player, but there's just no way that at even strength he should have played more than Brian Gionta or Tomas Plekanec. Looking at points per 60 minutes of ice time, Cammalleri was behind Plekanec, Gomez, Gionta, and even Benoit Pouliot. In the playoffs, Gomez played nearly two more minutes per game at even strength than Plekanec, even though Plekanec saw tougher competition and produced more points per 60 minutes.

The next season started much the same way, but as Martin came to know his players better, Plekanec became the #1 center and started getting better linemates. Adding Max Pacioretty and P.K. Subban created a much stronger team, but this change also had an effect on the team going from one of the worst possession teams in the league to 4th in the East.

I'll be the first to admit that seeing a player who's producing like mad get their ice time limited is frustrating, but Therrien being conservative with his usage of 18 and 20-year-old rookies in his first half year on the job isn't something to be upset about.

Let's not forget that Erik Cole was traded not just because Bergevin didn't want to work around his contract, but because the organization saw a permanent replacement for his production in Brendan Gallagher. As for Galchenyuk, I've said it several times on this site: if you truly believe he's going to be held back in his development, you're just being a worrywart. Galchenyuk is the future of the Canadiens' forward corps. Bergevin knows it, Therrien knows it, the other players know it. He's going to get his ice time, remember that he's 19 years old.


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