Instant Reaction: What does Martin St. Louis bring to the Montreal Canadiens?

The Hockey Hall of Famer lacks extensive coaching experience, but might be exactly what the team needs.

As the Montreal Canadiens were watching the seconds tick off the clock in an empty Bell Centre during their 7-1 loss to the New Jersey Devils on Tuesday night, I’m not sure anyone envisioned the next 24 hours happening the way they did.

Assistant coach Luke Richardson talked to the media on Wednesday morning after practice. Later, head coach Dominique Ducharme was relieved of his duties and replaced later in the day by Martin St. Louis on an interim basis.

Much like the team’s general manager Kent Hughes, St. Louis wasn’t on many lists circulating for the job he ended up taking. And while my initial reaction was confusion, I don’t think the team could have made a better short-term choice.

The key detail here is that St. Louis’ contract only goes until the end of the season. There’s no commitment. There are not many people who would take a short-term job leading this Canadiens team without a long-term commitment. This isn’t the Canadiens rushing into a decision they may regret a year from now.

I mentioned a few weeks ago, that was one of the challenging parts of a coaching change. St. Louis and Hughes know each other well so they probably had an open talk about the expectations and likely the future of the professional relationship.

So what does this mean for the Montreal Canadiens? Instant accountability. If anyone knows what it’s like to play in the NHL, it’s St. Louis. He commands the respect of players instantly. He also changes the mood around the team, which is likely a major reason the team fired Ducharme when they did.

If the team promotes, say, Alexandre Burrows from within, it doesn’t have the same effect around the team. The systems likely don’t change much. The message might even be similar. By bringing in a fresh set of eyes, a person who hasn’t dealt with the insane highs and lows of the last year, everything just hits different.

This is beyond wins and losses. It’s possible that St. Louis makes an instant difference in the team’s results, but that’s besides the point. When you’re developing players, and making key decisions on which players to keep around, the atmosphere surrounding the team the way it was after their game against the Devils was the worst possible environment to do either of those things.

Players won’t care about St. Louis’s coaching experience, but when he walks into the room, they know what he has gone through, and what he has done as a player. It is instant credibility.

At worse, the Canadiens can’t get their footing, St. Louis doesn’t get a feel for the role, and the two sides go their separate ways in the off-season. In the meantime, you have St. Louis working with players like Cole Caufield, Brendan Gallagher, and Nick Suzuki. You have some semblance of a fresh start where players can show up to the rink and not dwell on the past but look towards the future. You could do a lot worse for the team’s development.

At best, St. Louis does what Rod Brind’Amour has done in Carolina, bringing a modern approach to the coaching position, and everyone realizing that he’s pretty good at the whole coaching thing. After all, Hughes mentioned the Hurricanes coach as a coach he sees as an ideal modern day coach — something else he mentioned during his opening press conference.

So if your initial reaction was confusion, or if it was wondering what the heck the new front office was thinking, there are reasons why this could be a very shrewd move.

It’s the perfect example of a low-risk, high-reward move. It’s not something you often see with coaching moves due to the commitment often needed to make a major change, but it fits the Canadiens current situation perfectly.

Doing things the old way hardly worked, so what’s the harm in trying something new. If nothing else, it’s intriguing, and that sure beats what was going on before.

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