As I watched the Montreal Canadiens embarrass themselves against the worst team in the North Division on Saturday afternoon, I struggled to figure out what I’d write. There were plenty of events or players that could be singled out as reasons they lost that game, but only one overarching observation that seemed painfully obvious.
This team has a distinct lack of leadership and direction. For this, there are a few remedies I could suggest, none of which would be likely to bear fruit before the playoffs.
Shea Weber takes more undisciplined penalties and commits more unforced giveaways than he scores points lately. If he is playing injured — which many believe to be the case given his performance — that would be incredibly unbecoming of a leader. If this is instead just the rapid onset of his decline, then he needs to accept a reduced role, and not asking for more playing time as he recently did.
Brendan Gallagher should have that letter on his jersey, but he’s not available right now. I think that change is warranted, but even if he was available, it’s hard to argue that it would magically turn the team around. A remedy I’d advocate for, but not one likely to foster any immediate change in results.
And it isn’t just Weber’s performance that stands out as problematic. Veteran acquisitions Eric Staal and Corey Perry seem invisible at the best of times. Jonathan Drouin appears to have lost any sense of confidence that he once had. Carey Price can’t steal games like he once could, and even if he stood on his head yesterday, the game would have ended scoreless and sent them into an overtime format that they literally lose nine times out of ten.
The team has talent. We’ve seen it in flashes, and the thinking from the brass was that a coaching change might allow it to shine through. But they’ve tried that, so we’re left looking at the top of the organization’s leadership for the second remedy. Marc Bergevin’s time as General Manager should be coming to an end.
In all likelihood, this team will participate in the playoffs this season. That’s about all you can say, unfortunately, as they don’t appear to present any real threat to do anything once they get there. Bergevin can’t hang his hat on making the playoffs in a weak North Division. He can’t expect that limping into the dance and losing in the first round earns him another chance.
Like a change in the captaincy, however, Geoff Molson firing Bergevin tomorrow does nothing for the team right now. It would give him more time to search for a replacement, and for that replacement to form a plan, so I think it best to handle that piece of business sooner than later.
When Stephane Waite was fired he released the interesting bit of information that Bergevin has seen the writing on the wall. That he knew he’d be next if things didn’t turn around. They haven’t, and the fact that Vancouver, Ottawa, and Calgary have fallen hard enough to sneak the Habs into the playoffs shouldn’t cover that up.
He’s made some great moves, but those shouldn’t save him either. The fact is he built a team over nearly 10 years that doesn’t appear any closer to contention than they were when he took the job.
Something has to give, and I think he’ll have a hard time selling yet another coaching change as the solution.