Why did the Montreal Canadiens hire Michel Therrien as their next head coach?
So they can fire him one day, of course.
The same could be said of any NHL coach, but it's especially applicable in Therrien's case.
No other sport has the dynamic between coaches and players that the NHL has. The NFL seemingly has a coach for every player. Baseball has a more laconic pace. The NBA may have just as much strategy but doesn't possess the same levels of playing time politics and ego management. (Do they even try to manage egos in the NBA?)
Thus, no other sport has the coaching template of the NHL, in which the hard-ass is hired, then fired for the "players' coach," who is then fired for another hard-ass, until he's fired for that nice assistant coach that has an occasional beer with the players, until he's fired for the sergeant from "Full Metal Jacket."
Which is to say that Therrien is the coach the Canadiens may need now.
He's known as a disciplinary, a demanding coach, someone who isn't afraid to hold his players accountable publicly. Even if he's found some sense of serenity and — although hard to imagine — humility since the Pittsburgh Penguins fired him en route to the Stanley Cup in 2009, he's still that guy.
He's known to get immediate results from his teams in almost a Pat Burns-ian manner: a 17-point improvement after taking over the Canadiens and a 47-point improvement for the Penguins, thanks to Evgeni Malkin (via Arpon Basu).
Here, he takes over a team with a number of veterans with whom he can contend for the playoffs, and a young core that'll only grow larger that he can bend into submission.
Then, when the time is right and the messages are no longer working and the Canadiens don't meet expectations, he'll be replaced by the Dan Bylsma of Montreal. It's the way of the world. (Heck, look at Los Angeles: Terry Murray out and Darryl Sutter, clearly underrated as a players' coach, has them a win away from the Cup.)
Within that expectation, I don't mind the Therrien move.
But I'm also not a Montreal Canadiens fan, blogger or columnist. And they're … well, less than enthused.
Topham over on Lion In Winter writes that the Therrien hiring swallowed up the good will for Marc Bergevin as GM:
I have to say this hiring is troubling. Not because I can't see the team squeaking into the playoffs and being eliminated (as usual) with Therrien. I can. But because I thought this rebuild was meant to be a step into a new direction. A sincere effort to recognize that Montreal is a special mix of elements and that if the team is to ever live up to its heritage, it must start by staffing with a very special mix of managers.
As I said, Bergevin was getting the benefit of being a possible rising star, with his buddy Mellanby. But if his judgment and the advice he's taking led him down a road that ended with Therrien being considered, interviewed and hired, the flag I see is red and it tells me that we are very much on the same course as before and any expectations of a great franchise turnaround might have to wait until the next big clean out.
Andrew Berkshire of Habs Eyes On The Prize looks at Therrien's NHL coaching record and surmises:
Is this really the best that Marc Bergevin can offer us with a month long coaching search? This is what's offered as the new face of the Canadiens? There is no coach available anywhere in the world that Bergevin sees as a long term solution for the Habs? I call BS on it. This is a decision made by an organization afraid of risk, but they'll get no reward from it.
This hiring feels very much like Bergevin's first big mistake, and while it may be harsh to be that absolute before the team's roster has been overhauled, it's easy to see why so many fans feel this way. Therrien represents a coach from the Habs deeply depressing dark ages that NOBODY wants to revisit, and he represents Molson's lie that the best man for the job would be hired, language be damned.
While everyone's knee-jerk reaction today is based on ancient history (albeit a scarring history), it is still conjecture. Strange things happen in hockey, and this year's L.A. Kings team is proof of that. But relying on strange things is usually a fool's game. Let's see what type of changes Marc Bergevin makes to the roster. Let's see who is hired to flank Michel Therrien behind the bench. Let's hear what Michel Therrien has to say at his press conference. And finally, let's wait to see what the on-ice product looks like on the ice before passing final judgment. Every coach makes mistakes, and it will be difficult to avoid those who will hold up every mistake that Therrien makes as evidence of this being a poor hire. Let's just call it down the middle, yeah?
Meanwhile, Scott Burnside of ESPN takes an even-handed, optimistic approach to Therrien, believing that time has taken the edge off of him:
Therrien coached the Canadiens for parts of three seasons before the lockout, making the playoffs once. A number of factors -- inexperience, dealing with his marital situation and a temper that often bubbled perilously close to the surface -- conspired to make his stay a short one.
One night in Atlanta, Therrien heaved all the sticks onto the ice after a local timekeeper's error at the end of regulation allowed the Thrashers to tie the game and then go on to win in overtime. Yet new Montreal GM Marc Bergevin clearly sees something we have noted as our paths have crossed over the ensuing years, a kind of mellowing, a smoothing of those rough edges.
Perhaps. Or perhaps he sees a personality that's juxtaposed with his own, a veteran coach with whom he's acquainted and someone who won't be overwhelmed by the media in town. Whether or not this should have been the search criteria for the next Habs coach has yet to be determined. But it was, and here's Michel Therrien, Part Deux.