There is unrest among some of the Montreal Canadiens’ fans as the week leading to their first-round meeting with the Toronto Maple Leafs sees interim head coach, Dominique Ducharme run practice lines with veterans Eric Staal, Corey Perry, and other newcomer veterans on the back end, while opting out on last year’s playoff hero Kotkaniemi and this year’s late season scoring sensation Caufield. It’s easy for arm-chair coaches and general managers to criticize the move from an emotions-only perspective. In today’s NHL, the youngsters bring speed, skill, and some of those same over-flowing emotions that fans feed off of, so who wouldn’t want to see them in the line-up?
This version of the Montreal Canadiens isn’t about youth. This version of the Canadiens is about experience. Eric Staal and Corey Perry have both brought home multiple Olympic Gold medals for Canada and each has won Stanley Cups on their respective teams while having more than memorable careers. They were brought onto this team because of the journeys they’ve had on the path to victory and because of the experience they’ve had in overcoming failure. They’ve continued to find success by adjusting their game and role.
The General Manager, Marc Bergevin made other veteran moves in Merrill, Gustafsson, and Frolik, although they’re not nearly as decorated as Staal and Perry. These moves all fit into a current line-up with a veteran Captain in Weber, a seasoned goalie with Price, and rounded out with other over 30 players, complimented by a sprinkle of youngsters like Suzuki and Romanov, and a layer of mid-career players like Toffoli, Gallagher, and Anderson. You start to get the idea that in this shortened season, it was never meant to be a transition to a young core. I surmise this version of the team is meant to address playoff hockey, which tends to be a tighter physical and mental game.
This shortened season was designed with one goal in mind – win now! The best way the GM thought to do this, whether the fan base agrees or not, is to leverage veteran experience. To build a team that could perform and has proven experience in a short tournament. That’s the gamble.
So, can anyone really blame Dominique Ducharme for possibly going with a more veteran line-up? His boss went out and acquired pieces with a certain vision, for the coach to use. Does he succumb to a fanbase where even if the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup, there would be a percentage of fans who would say that they didn’t score enough goals, weren’t fast enough, didn’t win convincingly enough, or that the cup is half-empty next season because of salary cap, age of players, and the possible forecast for more snow? If your boss gets you a box of tools and you don’t use it and fail, you’re going to have a different conversation than if you did use it and failed.
If I were Ducharme, I don’t think I’d listen to someone with one hand in a peanut bowl, and the other on a mobile phone tweeting with their emotions either. There’s no guarantee that his current approach is the right one and I’m not saying it’s a winning move. There’s also nothing stopping Ducharme from making in-series adjustments if his ice-level observations nudge his professional emotions one way or another. In a game where the coach’s role has changed significantly from skill teacher to situational manager, like it or not, he’s doing what any coach across the NHL should be doing, when they’re part of a team, with a vision and mission set out by the General Manager and supported by the owner who’s agreed through their financial support.
I may want to see those exciting youngsters too, but just like in other societal challenges, sometimes experience matters.
This is an opinion article by Guido Piraino of The Monthly Social Podcast. It may also be heard on The Path Radio Mix Online. You can read other opinion articles on the blog page. For sports content, please consider The Coach's Call YouTube Podcast.