The fans are restless, and the words "fire Michel Therrien" have been repeated ad nauseam in recent weeks. At first glance, a quick look at Montreal's record since December 1 seems to be reason enough to justify turfing Therrien.
Of course, there's more to hockey than the standings, and just like the Canadiens weren't as good as their record indicated last season, they're definitely not as bad as their results in the last six weeks would lead you to believe, especially if you remove emotion from the equation.
First off, let's take a look at some of the numbers. Get ready for a major case of cognitive dissonance.
(CF% = shot attempts for %, SF% = shots for %, SCF% = scoring chance for %, HDSCF % = high danger scoring chance for %, SV% = save %, SH% = shooting %, all stats 5 vs 5, score adjusted, via war-on-ice.com)
As you can see, the Habs have improved in several significant categories. You can attribute some of those increases to normal team development, seeing as the Canadiens are a young club. You could also point to the roster and a player like Jeff Petry, who added a very important element to the team. Finally, you could argue that the reason Montreal's stats have seen such an uptick is that they were poor last season. All of those explain in part why the Habs are better this season statistically speaking, but they aren't the sole reason.
Michel Therrien deserves some credit for the improvements, just as he deserved criticism for the poor statistics last season. Keep in mind that these improved numbers came in a season where Brendan Gallagher was absent for half the year, and Carey Price is on the mend.
Simply put, the Habs shouldn't be in this position, and they probably deserve a better fate. Their low shooting percentage and struggling goaltending goes a long way to explaining why they only managed to pick up 11 points since December 1. It doesn't justify the poor results, but it does help explain them.
The coach isn't preventing the forwards from scoring, although you could argue that his system is not conducive to creating scoring chances. The Canadiens are dominant in terms of shot attempts and shots on net, however their scoring chances and high-danger scoring chances leave something to be desired.
If Therrien gets fired, he won't be the first coach to get the axe due to a low PDO, and it'll be interesting to see how Marc Bergevin approaches the subject, seeing as how he pointed to the record last season to defend Therrien's job. One thing is sure, the Canadiens aren't as bad as their recent record indicates.
Ideally, patience would be in order here, but can the Habs afford to miss the playoffs? If Therrien is replaced, there's no guarantee that his successor can provide better results, seeing as there would still be legitimate and pressing roster concerns, such as the lack of top six wingers. Changing the coach mid-season would also put an unfair amount of pressure on the new hire, as he'll be expected save the season without having any time to prepare.
Bergevin's decision will go a long way in showing us just how analytically inclined he is. Statistics aren't everything, but they can't be ignored either, and as it stands the numbers make a relatively strong case to keep Michel Therrien in the fold. In most cases, that type of improvement could be seen as a reason to extend a coach, although that concept ignores the fact that the NHL is in a results-driven industry.
It's the coach's job to make adjustments when things go wrong, but if - and it's a big if - Therrien can regulate some of his deployment issues, this season can still be salvaged. At the very least, I wouldn't be surprised if Bergevin gives his coach the rest of the season to right the ship.
Everything that could gone wrong this season has, and despite the coach deserving his share of the blame, it would be unfair to ignore the statistical improvements. That's not to say firing him isn't the solution, it very well may be, but at this point you can't point to the process to validate it.
It won't be an easy decision either way, and one thing is for sure; it will impact Bergevin's legacy as general manager of the Canadiens.