What message are Canadiens sending with Martin St. Louis hire?

Justin Cuthbert and Julian McKenzie discuss the reasons for Martin St. Louis being appointed head coach of the Montreal Canadiens, and the type of hockey operations Jeff Gorton is trying to build.

Video Transcript

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Big week in the Montreal area, so of course, I'm going to ask you for your opinion on everything. That goes into Marty St. Louis being named-- how about, before I get into it, did I do OK with that pronunciation? I've been really struggling around you with French pronunciation.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: St. Louis. St. Louis.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: A lot of people saying St. Louis-- not St. Louis. St. Louis. St. "Louie," around this market--

JULIAN MCKENZIE: St. Louis. St. Louis is fine.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: It's not "San" Louis?

JULIAN MCKENZIE: No-- I mean-- "San Louie"--

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: I'm even doing the French wrong.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Here's the thing. Like, if you're going to be full on French, you might as well just be like, (IN FRENCH ACCENT) Martin St. Louis. (NORMAL ACCENT) But, like, Marty St. Louis is good. I don't know if that is-- you hear any particular difference.

Also, if you want to feel better about yourself, and I don't-- and I'm not trying to ridicule the person's French here, it's just really interesting to see. Martin St. Louis, in his first few press conferences, he'll-- and he's, like, obviously speaking mostly in French-- he'll find himself, like, trying to catch his words and be like, oh, what's the word for process? Or what's the word for this thing? He finds himself doing that a lot.


JULIAN MCKENZIE: One of my-- which I find, personally, I just find very funny. Because, obviously, there's a whole big deal about the coach being francophone, GM being francophone and all that, and Martin St. Louis, who spent a lot of time over the last few years being in America, is trying to, like, catch his words.

It's not a big deal. It's just an observation. Don't go running with that storyline. But, like, it was just something that I thought was very interesting. But, again, not a big deal. And also, just, you can feel better about it if you're trying to chase French pronunciations.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Well, he's got to sharpen the tools. He's got to sharpen the coaching knife, and I guess he's got to sharpen the language knife. Just a little bit, but I'm sure he'll be fine as a French speaking person growing up. He'll be all right. Spending a lot of time in Tampa, I suppose.

What do you make of the decision? Does it make sense on your end? Obviously, this is someone who is a legend in hockey, Hall of Famer, a guy that's respected immensely, but someone who doesn't have much coaching experience. And there is a tricky job at hand here for the Montreal Canadiens with a team that is being torn down as we speak, and probably wants to keep some semblance of hope and positive enthusiasm and energy alive.

Is he the right person to do that? Is he the right person for X's and O's, or is he just the right person to make a guy like Cole Caufield continue on an upward trajectory, rather than one that seemed to be diminishing a little bit?

JULIAN MCKENZIE: So the coaching, we all the lack of coaching experience is very much there. He was coaching, like, a youther team, like pee-wee team before he joined the Montreal Canadiens as head coach. Let's get that out of the way. And that being said, like the rest of the assistant coaches that were there when Dominique Ducharme was head coach, are still around, including Luke Richardson. So I think if he's really worried about X's and O's and stuff, he can always lean back on the assistant coaching staff that's there.

In terms of motivation and Cole Caufield, I think the fact that he has the resume that he has, as a undrafted-turned-Hall-of-Fame-player, Stanley Cup champion, Hart Trophy winner, two time Art Ross winner-- like, if that's not enough to want you to feel motivated for playing for a guy like that, I'm not sure what else can be done here. The Canadiens are also in a unique position-- well, not unique, but they're in a position-- where they're not going anywhere. They're not making the Stanley Cup playoffs. So what does it really hurt to have Martin St. Louis be the head coach of this team? I don't think it really does anything.

I think there are some fans, actually-- maybe, like, a small faction. I think there's a small faction of fans who are worried that Martin St. Louis came across as too competent when he started his press conference with the Canadiens, and the way that the teams has looked through the first two games, there may be a small faction of fans who think that he's so competent that the team might actually win too many games. I don't think that's going to happen with Martin St. Louis, but I think the players--

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Dignified losing so far. Dignified losing, right?

JULIAN MCKENZIE: That's it. Like, the first two--

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: That's what you want.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Those first-- that's it. That's exactly what you want. I think if Canadiens fans are very much all in on on trying to get Shane Wright-- by the way, parts of the management staff, including Kent Hughes and Jeff Gorton watch Shane Wright on Saturday night. So, yeah, even the management staff knows what's up as well. But, I don't know. They're tired of seeing them lose, like, 7-1, and seeing guys with no fight. And the players in the locker room are absolutely tired of that.

Martin St. Louis, with the way that he conducts himself, the fieriness in his belly, I think there are guys who will at least get some wake up call, and realize, you know what? For the rest of the season, even if they're going to lose, they should at least fight for Martin, for the rest of the coaching staff, for themselves, as well. I think the coaching change was necessary in terms of helping them get to dignified losing as opposed to whatever the heck we saw over the last how many games.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: How do you categorize Dominique Ducharme as a head coach? Like, was he a bad head coach? Was he not equipped to coach at the NHL level? What was his downfall?

Because it seemed it seemed as though he was along for a pretty impressive ride from Carey Price and the rest of that team that just found it at the right time. Got rewarded-- he's going to be paid through until 2024 at the NHL coaching salary level, which is great for him, but it seems like he kind of won the lottery a little bit, and he might not be NHL head coach material. That's an outsider's perspective. I wonder what you think about that.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Yeah. The thing with Dominique Ducharme-- I'll give him this. Like, the circumstances as they were when he became interim head coach for the Canadiens, smack in the middle of a bubble season, basically was using his morning skates to kind of impart his own tutelage on players. Just basically spent the first month or so getting himself up to speed, helping the team and getting his own game-playing in.

And, of course, with the schedules being compressed as much as they were because of COVID, and, of course, whatever-- there was a mini COVID outbreak with the team last year. There was a bigger one this year. The players that were removed from the roster in the off season-- I think there's a list of factors you can bring up with Dominique Ducharme that could make the case that he didn't necessarily get a good deal through the 83 games he coached his head coach.

That being said, I think the fact that players-- I understand there was a lot of losses they have to go through with a loss of motivation, and there were just moments where just his coaching just did not look sound at all, especially on the defensive side. And I understand that a lot of that can fall on Luke Richardson as well, who coaches the defense, but through the first two games of the Martin St. Louis era, the Canadiens' defense is playing more man.

And Jeff Petry said it enough himself, that the directions on defense are a lot more clear than what they were under Dominique Ducharme. That's a fail on him. That's an indictment on what he was doing as head coach, especially this year. I think there were too many moments where we were looking at the Canadiens on the ice, and we were like, well, why did that happen? And people all year have been like, yeah, well, they're trying to play to this Dominique Ducharme system.

Justin, truthfully, I cannot tell you-- I cannot explain to you what that system is. I cannot-- if you were to ask me, like, tell me what the system is, I don't know what it is, and I think there are guys in that locker room who did not know either. So I think at the end of the day, while there were a lot of factors that went against him.

By the way, he also went through-- he tested positive for COVID during the Stanley Cup playoffs as well. He missed games in the Stanley Cup Final, too. He's gone through a lot in these last, in the last year, because he got hired as interim head coach this time last year, essentially.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: He didn't last more than a year, yeah.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Yeah. So he could write a book on the last year, but a lot of his own decisions, I think, kind of contributed to his downfall. I didn't even mention the fact that he scratched guys like Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Cole Caufield at the beginning of the playoffs. I didn't even mention the fact that there are other guys who played this year who people are scratching their heads, wondering, like, well, why are you scratching the few players on the team this year who have, you know, given a damn about the year?

Rem Pitlick comes to mind. Michael Pezzetta, who's a fourth line guy, but he's actually shown energy and he's actually given a damn throughout the year. I think there was a lot of curious decisions that Dominique Ducharme made, and the lack of communication skills, which I think we were led to believe were going to be good. I don't think they were necessarily as great as some people think they were. All those factors, I think, kind of contributed to his downfall in Montreal.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: We spoke on a different platform yesterday, and we had a conversation after you had left, because you mentioned Emilie Castonguay going to Vancouver, and Danny Briere. Those were two names that interviewed with Montreal, and of course, we're talking about Ducharme and St. Louis, and Kent Hughes. You know, this year has been about putting together the team that's going to take this group, or this roster, or whatever this roster is going to look like, to the next phase of this life cycle, right?

So we've got, you know, Jeff Gorton coming in, Kent Hughes coming in, and now Marty St. Louis coming in. But it seemed like they were advertising, hey, we're going to be this, we're going to add a lot of people. We're going to be very diverse. We're going to bring in a lot of different opinions.

And that hasn't happened in Montreal as much as it's happened in Vancouver. And I wonder with Danny Briere going elsewhere and Castonguay going elsewhere, like, you know, what was advertised in Montreal and in Vancouver seems to be happening in Vancouver, but not in Montreal.

Was there sort of-- do you sense that the writing was on the wall a little bit with the buck stops with Jeff Gorton? And that wasn't as appealing as, maybe, the environment Jim Rutherford is trying to create in Vancouver, where it is going to be this immensely collaborative effort? Or do we learn something about Montreal's management team and their plans, and the fact that who swings the hammer is Jeff Gorton and then Kent Hughes, and anyone else is going to be involved in this team is going to be reporting to them?

JULIAN MCKENZIE: That's a very good question, and I'm not sure if there is an immediate way to figure that out right now. Here's the one thing I will say about, what is there with the structure in place with Jeff Gorton, Kent Hughes, and Martin St. Louis? One, they're very connected to each other. I'll say two things.

One, they're all kind of connected to each other because they've known each other through different walks of life, or different teams that they were affiliated with. And I think in some way, their kids are all playing with each other in University and other parts of life as well. So--

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: It's interesting.

JULIAN MCKENZIE: Yes, there is-- it's very interesting. And I think, I believe when Marc Bergevin was GM of the Montreal Canadiens, he did get some criticism for bringing in people that were like-minded to him-- his boys, essentially-- and giving them opportunities in the front office. The second thing, which is a big difference from what Marc Bergevin was trying to do in Montreal, which is build a team that was big and strong and rugged-- Kent Hughes, Jeff Gorton, Martin St. Louis, all have a philosophy where they want to be offensive-minded people.

Jeff Gorton gets a lot of credit for bringing in guys like Brad Marchand into the fold in Boston. The New York Rangers, as they are right now, Jeff Gorton-- we joked about it on Zone Time. If it was up to Jeff Gorton, maybe they'd still be doing the rebuild.

But the Rangers look like a contending team right now. And Jeff Gorton, pretty much, was a big reason why they got to the position at the rim. He helped pen that letter that told fans, hey, we're going to go through a rebuild. And now, the Rangers fans are reaping the rewards that Jeff Gorton has sewn into the ground.

So I think for fans in Montreal, at the very least, off of what's being said between those two, and then Martin St Louis going on his press conference saying that he doesn't like systems, or putting his players in these boxes and trying to let them roam free and go for these correct reads and all that. Fans right now, they might not necessarily be thinking, oh, man, it would have been great if we had that diversity of opinion with Castonguay and other women in the front office.

The fact that the guys in place now are preaching-- or at least desire to have a style of play on their team that fans have not seen in over a decade, I feel like that has kind of gone to the back burner now, in terms of what the rest of the front office will look like, or what has been originally promised. But it is a good point, because Jeff Molson, the owner of the Montreal Canadiens, said that there would be a diversity of opinions in this front office. And it was possible that we could be seeing women in this front office as well.

There seems to be conflicting reports over whether or not Emilie Castonguay really did get an interview with the Montreal Canadiens, or really was just at least considered as a serious candidate to work as the General Manager of the team, or at least work in the front office. And the games are still going to have to figure out who else will be in there. Is Vincent Lecavalier really going to be part of the front office, but from Tampa? Who else are they going to look at for the front office for this team?

A lot of questions need to be asked about this. I think, though, I think Daniele Sauvageau who has experience, at least on the women's side, working in the front office, it wouldn't surprise me if she was announced in some capacity. I believe she's working with [INAUDIBLE] Canada for the Olympics right now, and maybe that's why we haven't heard anything there yet about what position she might have. Maybe she turns into an AGM for the Montreal Canadiens going forward.

But, yeah. I think right now, the fact that the guys who are in place for Montreal, they preach the style of, they want the team to reach a style of play that so many fans have been salivating for, it's kind of put this freeze in everyone's minds about what exactly the rest of the front office could look like.

JUSTIN CUTHBERT: Yeah, it's interesting. I mean, these are-- maybe they're not so different, but it seems like these two examples are very much different with, you know, like-minded individuals, group think happening potentially in Montreal. And I'm not necessarily suggesting that's a bad thing. I think the most important thing is to have that figurehead who's going to make the decisions who is very competent, and I believe Jeff Gorton is that guy. I believe he will do a great job.

But you want that diversity of opinion as well. And I think that's valuable on the Vancouver side. It'll be interesting to see how both these situations work, or if Montreal sort of gravitates a little bit more towards what's happening in Vancouver with a couple additional hires.