What do you think Randy Cunneyworth will do during his summer vacation?
a) Bring the Stanley Cup to his hometown of Etobicoke
b) Learn to speak French
c) Look for a job
It comes down to probability: If a), then b).
But my money is on c)
And I hope the Canadiens’ new coach gets his CV to the Xerox copier before the general manager uses up all the paper on his resumé.
Now before the glass-half-full/never-say-die/thank God Jacques Martin is gone/Happy Days are here again segment of the Commentariat accuses me of throwing Cunneyworth under the bus after one loss, let me pre-empt their anguished bleats by acknowledging that Ken Hitchcock lost his first game behind the bench before turning the St. Louis Blues around.
And the jury is out on the other debut-droppers: John Stevens in L.A., Bruce Boudreau in Anaheim, Dale Hunter in Washington and Kirk Muller, who walked on water from Milwaukee to Carolina.
The calm postgame analysis you hear in the audio indicates Cunneyworth is a smart, articulate guy. He waited a long time to get his shot behind an NHL bench, and Cunneyworth will work his bag off to get the most out of your Montreal Canadiens.
I just don’t think there’s much to be got.
And I don’t think it was a coincidence that the loss to New Jersey was a carbon copy of what happened against Philadelphia: 3-3 tie heading into the third period, early goal by the visitors, balloon deflated, fans booing their beloved Canadiens off the Bell Centre ice.
Some of those fans and a few pundits, including my great and good friends Mitch Melnick and Tony Marinaro, had been calling for Jacques Martin’s scalp since September. Melnick’s antipathy stretches back farther, just about to the beginning of Martin’s tenure in September, 2009.
My response to them has echoed that of my greater and better friend, Pat Hickey: Coaching was not the problem.
Scotty Bowman could not squeeze more out of this edition of the Montreal Canadiens than Martin did. Neither could Toe Blake or Dick Irvin.
Martin was not blessed with the talent-laden rosters of the aforementioned legendary Canadiens coaches.
You could make a case this team is not as good as the one Guy Carbonneau coached to first-place in the Eastern Conference … before everything turned to loose-stooled effluent.
Jacques Martin had to concoct wins with a very good goaltender, a defence corps that includes two sophomores and two rookies, a few young forwards who may become good players, a pleasant UFA surprise, some underachieving veterans and spare parts that would not play for the Boston Bruins, the New York Rangers, the Philadelphia Flyers … well, I could go on, but you get the point.
And you can fill in the names.
Before Cunneyworth made his debut, I got an e-mail from Steve Kerley, who posts as 24 Cups:
Jacques Martin coached the Habs for 222 games including the playoffs. During that time span, Andrei Markov suited up for just 60 games. He has missed the past 115 games that Martin has been behind the Montreal bench.
You can say all you want about Martin’s firing but this factor has to be near the top of the list when it comes to reasons for Martin’s dismissal.
Here’s a ‘what if’ for you. If the Habs had of won four of their seven OT losses, they would be 17-12-3 which is good for 37 points. That would put them in 6th place, one point back of Pittsburgh and the Rangers.
It’s a fine line between chaos and creation.
It’s a more substantial line between acceptance of reality and the delusion – allegedly subscribed to by by Geoff Molson – that the Montreal Canadiens, as currently constituted, can contend for the Cup.
Maybe I’m wrong.
The team might win in Boston Monday night. Maybe they’ll win again in Chicago on Wednesday, and there will be a stampede to clamber back aboard the bandwagon before the Thursday visit to Winnipeg.
There was a Perry Pearn bump, a Tomas Kaberle bump and maybe there will be a Randy Cunneyworth bump that yields a couple Ws.
There was a players-only meeting after the game, and a fly-on-the-wall probably would have heard Josh Gorges and Hal Gill exhorting their teammates to suck it up and play better, if not for Cunneyworth then for the guys in the locker beside them and for the 21,273 who pack the Bell Centre and, this season, go home disappointed most nights.
Maybe the combination of a new coach and veteran leadership will inspire this team to play better than it has through the first 33 games.
Include me among the skeptics.
• • •
And while I’m annoying y’all with the pessimistic view that this ain’t the 1976 Montreal Canadiens, let me weigh in on the language issue:
I think the coach should be able to speak French.
I’ll not bore everyone with a history lesson, but trust me on this:
Much has changed in Quebec since Al MacNeil coached the Canadiens to their 17th Cup.
I wouldn’t expect anyone who doesn’t live here to understand the importance of respect for the language spoken by an overwhelming majority of the team’s fans.
Many Montrealers – including some of my best friends – don’t get it.
Yes, you can hire the best candidate for the job in 29 NHL cities.
It’s different here.
There are important political, cultural and historical issues at play.
That’s just the way it is … and that’s the way it will be, unless Gary Bettman moves the Canadiens to Las Vegas.