Anyone who has lived in Montreal and has followed hockey in Montreal and/or follows the Montreal Canadiens will attest to the fact that in Montreal, there is no such thing as offseason. The Canadiens, just shy of a week post-elimination in the Eastern Conference Finals, have cleaned out their lockers, conducted their exit interviews — with both the management as well as the media — and are well on their way to summer plans.
Fans, however, continue to live, eat, sleep and breathe hockey, and when it comes to fans, the topics of conversation range from perspective of the playoffs (including the ever-popular postmortem blame game), to discussion of contracts, which inevitably leads to the depths of, “what will the team look like next year?”
Habs management is usually very quiet about contract talks, and this year is no different. General manager Marc Bergevin held a press conference on Monday and would not reveal the cards he is holding close to his chest. Primary on most people’s minds is the contract for star defenseman, P.K. Subban. On that, he said that he will not discuss contract talks publicly, but that it is a strategic process.
Habs fans want answers. The wildly popular Subban has more than proven his worth, and it is obvious (from his time-on-ice numbers reaching almost 30 minutes every game) that the coach feels the same. Most fans scoff at the prospect of his not being signed. Sports-talk radio has expressed confidence that Bergevin will announce a contract in shortly. Subban is an asset to the team, and the last thing anyone wants is to see him in another team’s colors, or worse, scoring on Carey Price.
It goes without saying that should Bergevin not, for whatever reason, choose to keep Subban on the team, he faces a mini-revolt by fans who adore Subban’s talent, bigger-than-life personality, maturity at the microphone, and toughness on the ice. But as Bergevin said, nothing will be revealed until it is for public consumption.
Not a secret is the contract extension for coach Michel Therrien. With a year left on his existing contract, Therrien has already gotten the nod publicly. Bergevin said, “The day I reach a contract extension agreement with Michel, you’ll be the first to know. He’ll be back next year.”
Therrien isn’t as unanimously loved among the fans as Subban is; there have been calls, by fans, for his firing, and a hashtag, “#FireMT” was trending on Twitter this season. The main complaints seem to have been Therrien’s tendency to either mix up the lines, or not change anything with the lines. Of course, in winning times, the hashtag disappears. I can’t recall having seen it even once since playoffs began.
Last season — the truncated one due to the lockout — was Therrien’s first with the club. He came into a year where the Habs had finished dead last and needed boosting. He brought them not only to playoffs (albeit one round), but to the top of their division (winning the Northeast) and second in the Eastern Conference.
Some said this was not indicative of the team or of the coach, that the shortened season was not a true test. They might have been right, however, the clinching factor, in my opinion, was Therrien’s second season with the Habs. A full 82-game run, with no longer than a four-game losing streak at any one time, finishing third in the division, just one point shy of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the team they eventually swept in Round 1.
And that’s without considering postseason.
Of course, it goes without saying that the team’s deep playoff run spoke loudly for the coach as well. This team had not gotten past Round 1 since their last appearance in the Eastern Finals in the 2010-11 season. Considering Therrien was behind the bench for this year’s achievement, I believe it is a mark of the man’s ability to coach a team to success.
I have had no quarrel with Therrien as the head coach of the Canadiens. I find him professional, knowledgeable, sensible, affable and he instills confidence whenever he takes the podium. It’s clear this team enjoys playing for him. I will be one who is pleased to see his contract extension announced.
Now, all Mr. Bergevin has to do is sign Subban.