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What went wrong with Michel Therrien?

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He was a surprise hire, with early success, but eventually all coaches have an expiry date

Montreal Canadiens Introduce Michel Therrien As New Head Coach Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

On June 5, 2012, Michel Therrien, the 21st full-time head coach of the Montreal Canadiens, also became the 25th.

The move was met with skepticism. People did not think that Michel Therrien could take this team where it needed to go, but right off of the bat, he had success. A lot of it.

He took over for the 2012-13 season, which started late because of the infamous lockout. The season would only be 48 games. There would be a very short training camp.

In 2012-13, the Canadiens were coming off of their worst season in recent memory. They picked third overall in the NHL Draft. Marc Bergevin had just been hired, and there had been some moves to improve the team, but nothing was expected.

Therrien, led by Carey Price and a pair of rookies in Brendan Gallagher and Alex Galchenyuk, got off to a 13-4-3 start. The team would continue to win, and won the division title just a year after being last in the same division.

The expectations going into the playoffs were sky high, despite the team losing five of their last eight games down the stretch.

That playoff series against Ottawa was ugly in every sense of the word. We all remember the hit that knocked Lars Eller out of the series when he was at the top of his game. Additionally, Carey Price, Brian Gionta, and Max Pacioretty all missed games due to injuries.

The Habs lost the series in five with a lineup that included Peter Budaj, Raphael Diaz, Jarred Tinordi, Francis Bouillon, Gabriel Dumont, and Mike Blunden in game five. It was disappointing, but injuries were a factor.

The team even had good underlying numbers which made everyone optimistic about what could happen with a full season.

The next season, the team began 10-9-2 in a rather pedestrian start. Even worse, we started to see a downward trend in their underlying numbers. They then went on a 9-0-1 run which vaulted them towards another playoff appearance.

In the middle of the season, they went through a stretch that saw them lose four straight games, including 4-1 to Detroit and 5-0 to Washington. Surprisingly, the losses were a prelude for success in the next season and a half. They went 19-8-3 for the rest of the season, and advanced to the third round before Chris Kreider happened.

The end of the 2013-14 playoffs left a sour taste in the mouths of Habs fans, but they could take solace in the fact that Price had not been healthy when the team was eliminated from the contention in either of the last two years.

That 19-8-3 stretch to end 2013-14 would extend to the 2014-15 which the Canadiens finished with the best record in the Atlantic Division, and second best record in the entire NHL. They went 50-22-10, led by Carey Price who had a Hart and Vezina trophy season.

Price would hide a lot of problems with the team’s system.

In the playoffs, the team would lose three straight games to open the second round of their series against the Lightning. In those three games, one was in double overtime, and one was on a last second goal. The Canadiens fought back, but ended up losing in six games to Tampa Bay.

Last season, we all know what happened. It doesn’t need to be repeated. But, before the slump began, the Habs and Therrien went through a span of 138 games from the Washington loss in 2013-14 to December 1, 2016 with a record of 88-34-16.

The team had incredible starts in four of the five seasons Therrien was coach and the only one that started even close .500, he had a 9-0-1 stretch immediately after.

The biggest thing that went wrong during Therrien’s tenure, was the failure to make adjustments and adapt. It seemed like as soon as adversity struck, either with injuries or teams adjusting, or a mixture of the two, there was never a response. When you rely on one player, it makes it hard to adjust. Therrien seemed to panic and go back to default whenever trouble hit. The blender was real.

Therrien’s system, much maligned during the regular season, changed for the playoffs. Every year it made people believe that there was something that would change going into the next season. Every year, the numbers remained the same.

Last season, the team’s system had improved significantly and it showed in the possession numbers. It continued into this season as well. Finally, it seemed like the Canadiens were putting themselves in the best spot to succeed. It looked like he was figuring something out.

But it was not to be.

Therrien had success with the Canadiens, relatively speaking. In four of his five seasons - including the one he was fired in - the team had a winning percentage over .600.

Yes, a lot of that was due to his goaltending, and the ultimate irony is that when things were improving, the goaltending was simply not at the MVP-levels it was when the team was successful despite all measures.

Ultimately, Therrien also proved just how hard it is to turn success into a Stanley Cup, especially when you’re unable to adjust.

All coaches have an expiry date. Through it all, it appears Marc Bergevin thought that Therrien had gotten this team as far as he could.