Putting lipstick on a pig: why Dominique Ducharme is unlikely to turn things around
Claude Julien is a coach I've always had respect for. Whether it was the way he carried himself with fans and media, the respect he seems to still have from veterans he's coached on previous teams, or his ability to motivate players, there is little doubt that he will find another position in the NHL some time soon (assuming he chooses to continue, given his health issues).
But when he was fired this week, all I read was about how it was his inability to work with young players, his debatable choices in benching established players, his poor in-game management, that explained why the team had turned on him and was spiraling down in the standings.
All this may in part be true but the reality is that the problems are much deeper than that. One quick look up and down the Canadiens lineup, a closer examination of how they have been losing games, makes it evident that the personnel is simply just not good enough.
Fact is the division boasts some of the top forwards, notably at center, in the entire league. They also happen to be big and fast. And those matchups do not favor the Canadiens.
Asking a sophomore player like Nick Suzuki, or a 20 year-old like Jesperi Kotkaniemi, to be able to shadow players the likes of Austin Matthews, Mark Scheifele or Connor McDavid is simply a losing proposition. Trying to counter those players with a top defensive duo in Chiarot and Weber who both are not only slow-footed but the former also being prone to monumental turnovers, is going to remain a major problem regardless who the coach is. Chiarot was a 4/5 defenseman throughout his career. He can't handle these hard minutes against elite talent, nor can Joel Edmundson. It's not their fault that Marc Bergevin has failed all these years to secure a solid, smooth-skating puck moving player to play alongside the captain.
The Canadiens brought in Alex Burrows, who will be in charge of trying to rescue the flailing powerplay. But the hard, cold truth is that they boast no elite snipers or a Markov-type enabler at the point. And those are usually key elements of a successful powerplay. The reality is that the GM has his hands tied with close to 20M$ being allotted to 2 declining players in Price and Weber, the first having shown little signs the past 4 years that he can carry a team on his shoulders, let alone handle the pressures that come with playing in this hotbed market, and the latter showing clear signs that Father Time has done him in. Hence management is not likely to be able to improve this defense any time soon.
Granted, bringing in Ducharme could help in the development of players like Suzuki, Kotkaniemi and Romanov (incidentally all three have been playing better since the coaching change- Romanov in particular), but this is not going to be enough to camouflage the significant flaws on this roster.
Top teams generally boast 3 things: a strong center line, an elite d-pair, and a goalie who is at least in the upper echelon at his position. The Canadiens are lacking in all 3 areas.
You can apply all the mascara and glossy lipstick you want, this pig is still just a pig, one that hasn't won a single playoff round since 2015. Habs fans can only hope that the next wave of young prospects the team claims to have, will be able to bridge some of these glaring holes.
But given the disappointing track record when it comes to Canadiens' draft picks (notably their first rounders), I can't blame those who remain concerned, and prefer to roll their eyes to the sky and exclaim "yeah, when pigs will fly".