Newly appointed Montreal Canadiens interim head coach Martin St. Louis in tough situation
By Neil Becker
Being a lifelong hockey fan, I understood that something drastic had to be done in Montreal.
Months after Montreal Canadiens fans and management were celebrating the stunning feat of playing in the Stanley Cup finals, everything changed.
The deep concern started the last off-season as speculation centered around the health of star veteran goalie Carey Price and whether he could in fact come back from injury and be one hundred percent this season.
Meanwhile, management made public that number one defenceman Shea Weber wouldn’t be playing this year due to continued rehab from his injuries. Not long afterward the talk was that the 36- year-old, who still processed physicality and a booming slap-shot, was set to retire. These are obviously two huge losses for a team that last spring surprised the hockey world by going to the Stanley Cup finals.
The Canadiens also made news at the 2021 NHL entry draft when they were heavily criticized for selecting 31st. overall defenceman Logan Mailloux who had in the past got into trouble for sharing intimate photos without consent.
As the 2021/22 regular season got underway, Montreal couldn’t re-capture last spring’s playoff magic, as they got off to a really bad start and haven’t recovered.
In late November, the Canadiens shook up their front office as they fired long-time general manager Marc Bergevin and his assistant Trevor Timmins and hired Jeff Gorton as the GM replacement. This season, a couple of young talents who have underachieved include Habs forwards Cole Caufield who has only 10 points and is -17 in 33 games, and Nick Suzuki who is a -24 in 48 games.
In early February Montreal had the hockey world talking when in a curious move they hired a hall of famer with no coaching experience in Martin St. Louis to take over as interim head coach. He took the job from long-time Habs coach Dominique Ducharme.
St. Louis, who is 46 years old had a 16 year-playing career with the Calgary Flames, Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers, which saw this first-ballot Hall of Famer play 1,134 NHL games where he scored 391 goals and 1,033 points.
St. Louis, who was never drafted, played a pivotal role in helping Tampa Bay win the 2014 Stanley Cup and also was part of the Team Canada squad which won gold at the 2014 Sochi winter Olympics.
As a hard-core hockey fan, I have to admit feeling puzzled at this particular hiring. The Canadiens were last overall and had dropped 13 of 14 games when the move was made. Realistically, one would think that the organization should have hired an experienced interim bench boss as opposed with all due respect to St. Louis who has no experience.
I vaguely remember as a 10- year-old fan back in the 1979/80 season when the defending Stanley Cup champions Canadiens hired an inexperienced coach but Hall of Fame player in Bernie ‘Boom’ ‘Boom’ Geoffrion, who after coaching 30 games, had to step down as coach due to health problems. At the time Montreal had a 15-9-6 record, but Geoffrion had trouble handling the pressure.
Two other past examples of hall of fame players who struggled as rookie head coaches were Bryan Trottier who during the 2002/03 campaign as head coach of the New York Rangers, lasted only 54 games. Meanwhile, the NHL’s all-time number one point producer Wayne Gretzky who once coached the Phoenix Coyotes was referred to by a former player as being the ‘worst coach’ he has ever played for. Trottier, who in his playing days won four Stanley Cups with the New York Islanders, was referred to by Islanders fans as being a trader for coaching the Rangers. Meanwhile, some Rangers fans didn’t like Trottier’s bench strategy. As a coach Trottier’s Rangers were 21-26-6-1 when he was fired.
A few years later, on October 5, 2008, Gretzky celebrated his first win (came against Minnesota Wild) as coach of the Coyotes. The Great One’s coaching run lasted until officially stepping down on September 24, 2009, with an overall 143- 161-24 record. Years later one of Gretzky’s players, forward George Laraque didn’t pull any punches in calling Gretzky the worst coach ever.
Despite the daunting task, St. Louis isn’t the least bit intimidated. In a whirlwind couple of weeks, this Laval native went from dropping off his kids at hockey practice to coaching the Montreal Canadiens. Something he called a dream come true.
On Thursday night, in his fourth game as interim coach, St. Louis earned his first win as the Canadiens pulled off a dramatic 3-2 overtime win at the Bell Centre against the St. Louis Blues.