Week 15 in One Word: Small

February 14, 2022

small

/smôl/

of a size that is less than normal or usual

Similar: little, compact, tiny, minute, slight, minor, inconsequential

insignificant, unimportant

Week 15 had four games in store for the Montreal Canadiens. The New Jersey Devils clobbered the Habs on Tuesday night and the 7-1 beatdown was the final straw for Habs brass. On Thursday a new coach was behind the bench with the Washington Capitals in town and a more respectable 5-2 loss was the outcome. The Saturday noon game saw the Columbus Blue Jackets edge out the Habs 2-1, but the home team looked like a different team. Another noon game on Sunday had the Buffalo Sabres in town and more positives adding up for the Habs, but a 5-3 loss was added to the books.

Here’s how I saw Week 15 go down.

The tenure of Dominique Ducharme as coach of the Montreal Canadiens was small, but it was not insignificant.  

It ended up being less than a year. That’s a small window of time to prove you can coach at the NHL level.

Ducharme’s tenure was a roller coaster – a Stanley Cup run wedged between an unimpressive regular season that saw the Habs fall backwards into the playoffs and an abysmal start to this season. The memories will be mixed, but he was the guy behind the bench when the Montreal Canadiens were stopped three wins short of a Stanley Cup.

That magical run earned Ducharme a three-year contract with the team in July. But with key players out, a small off-season to prepare, and a hard hit from the coronavirus and an injury outbreak, the job ended up being bigger than Dom was.

In November I wrote about some impressions of Dom based on an interview with Eric Engels of Sportsnet and at the end of the day that impression has not changed. The latest to feed my impression also came from Engles, who reported that in the last couple of weeks Ducharme was approached by players requesting changes to the forecheck and defensive-zone system. Apparently, Dom doubled down on his own way.  

If Ducharme wants the title Coach in front of his name again at the NHL level, he’s going to need to develop some self-reflection skills… and maybe grow enough humility to listen when your veterans come and plead with you for change. That November article is posted here for easy reference.

https://wordpress.com/post/habather.wordpress.com/163

The Habs have hired a coach who has spent his life proving that size isn’t everything.  

Martin St. Louis is well acquainted with doubters. He didn’t hear his name called at the NHL entry draft, and yet he played more than 1000 NHL games.

He was too small to have success at the pro level, and yet scored more than 1000 points in the NHL.

Now his coaching resume is too small to be the coach of the Montreal Canadiens, and yet there he was behind the bench on Thursday night.

Much has been said about the wisdom of this hire, but there is one thread that has annoyed me in a big way this past week. It was suggested that St. Louis was hired to be a mole – his tenure would be short because he was there only to get a read of the room and feed information up before HuGo made decisions about players.

Seriously. How contrived is that?

Exactly which coach would be behind the Habs bench that wouldn’t be expected to provide an evaluation of each guy on the roster as decisions are being made? It’s integral to the role. Martin St. Louis did not come to Montreal to be a mole for a small window of time. He intends to stick around. He was chosen because they like what he brings. Right or wrong, they see him as the “perfect embodiment” of the culture they want to create. They think St. Louis can be part of building the team they want.

Speaking of building, it’s a small sample size, but it looks like Cole Caufield might not be a bust.

Strong leaders know when a small move can have a big impact.

Fans were desperate to see HuGo make a big splash on the trade market. Instead, for their first move we saw them make a perfect splash. On Saturday the Habs traded Brandon Baddock to the Minnesota Wild for Andrew Hammond.

If your first thought is that Hammond isn’t very good anymore, you missed the point of the deal. 

I don’t care if Hammond can’t stop a beach ball from going through the eye of a needle. HuGo had to do something to stop the exploitation of young Cayden Primeau who should clearly be developing in Laval. In the meanwhile, Carey Price, Jake Allen, Michael McNiven, John Boy and Mary Ellen are all injured. Sam Montembeault is also nursing an injury but soldiering through. They needed to add a goalie, but making a deal was delicate. They were at 48 of 50 contracts and the cap is tight. They needed to add a player but not a contract, and they did it without giving up a valued asset. 

Baddock was playing 4th line on the farm. Moving out his contract to bring in Hammond was a small deal, but an important deal. 

With the big trade deadline coming up on March 21st, the Habs have set their own smaller deadline with Ben Chiarot. 

For weeks I’ve been advocating for the Habs to set their own deadline where Ben Chiarot is concerned. I think it’s finally happened. 

Even though he returned to the game against Columbus, didn’t we all have a small cardiac episode when Chiarot headed to the room? If HuGo needed a near miss to get the message, they got it. Chiarot is on Injured Reserve for a week. That can be extended or shift to day-to-day until a deal is done. I believe the Chiarot deadline has been set and we have seen him play his last game for the Montreal Canadiens.

Reports suggest as many as a dozen teams are interested and HuGo wants at least a 1st round pick. The message has been sent – get your offers in now and if you go small you might miss out.

The coaching change is a small part of a much bigger HuGo plan.  

My favourite quote from the presser that introduced the new coach was this from Kent Hughes. “There will be changes. This is the first of several.”

It didn’t take long for Hughes to put his money where his mouth is. After making a small deal on Saturday, the first major trade for the Habs broke while I was writing this. Tyler Toffoli has been dealt to the Calgary Flames for four pieces: a 1st round pick in 2022, a 5th round pick in 2023, Emil Heineman and Tyler Pitlick. Let’s break it down.

The Flames are expected to make the playoffs, but unless they pull off a 2021 Habs run they are not likely to go deep. That 1st rounder is likely to be somewhere in the low- to mid-20s. That’s a good piece. Emil Heineman (43rd overall in 2020) is a left winger with size currently developing in Europe, and an option to join the Habs next season. Tyler Pitlick is a veteran depth forward who can slot in as players are shipped out in the weeks ahead, and who helped make the salary work. The 5th rounder is what it is.

I’m sad to lose Toffoli. My hope was that he would only be moved for a top prospect – from the Flames that would be Connor Zary or Jakob Pelletier. But the package is a good one.

It’s also significant to note that Darren Dreger is reporting a bigger trade was being contemplated between the two, but they couldn’t make the salary work. Perhaps with a little more wrangling we’ll see Chiarot or even Christian Dvorak make their way to Calgary, and the top prospect will return at that time.

Or perhaps HuGo will stockpile picks to make another deal. Why shouldn’t the Habs be in on a guy like Jacob Chychrun?

My point is this. Let’s try and trust the process. HuGo has a plan in place, and there is every reason to believe that the plan is anything but small.

Published by Lori Bennett

Hockey is my hobby. I love a respectful hockey chat or debate, but it stops being fun if we're jerks.

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