There ya go, the problem that had the Montreal Canadiens all bound up through the early going of the new NHL season had nothing to do with the little people playing on the team’s top two lines, the thin defence, the lousy drafting or the questionable free agent signings.
It was the assistant coach’s fault.
Perry Pearn was gassed less than two hours before the Canadiens’ game against the Philadelphia Flyers this week, an event which shoots a dart through the theory that Montreal is one of hockey’s ‘class’ organizations.
No trade. No firing the head coach. Rid yourself of one of the three assistants, the same coach who was given a contract extension only a couple of weeks ago.
Since the move, Montreal has won two straight, over Philly and Boston, but Pearn was not at the root of the Canadiens’ problem.
It begins and ends with those who have been steering the ship the past number of years.
The Canadiens’ offence is expected to be led by three players all under six-feet tall — Tomas Plekanec, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta (Cammalleri and Gionta are especially wee).
While the NHL has opened its doors to the smaller player — Martin St. Louis is the poster boy for the little ones — not a single NHL roster will you find three of a team’s best players under 5-11.
Unless you’re in Montreal.
And while the draft has uncovered a scattered gem — Mark Streit 262nd in 2004, Jaroslav Halak 271st in ’03, Plekanec 71st in ’01 and Andrei Markov 162nd in 1998 — the Canadiens’ first-rounders have been, for the most part, a bust (anybody remember David Fischer, Kyle Chipchura, Alexander Perezhogin, Marcel Hossa, Eric Chouinard and Jason Ward?).
And let’s consider some of the Canadiens’ trades of late: Mikail Grabovsky for Greg Pateryn and a 2010 draft pick, which Montreal dealt; Jaroslav Halak for Lars Eller (the jury, to be fair, might still be out on that one), Mike Ribeiro for Janne Niinimaa and a draft pick.
That’s when a Montreal general manager opts to even make a deal involving a front-line player.
As for free agents, Montreal has cornered the market on bit parts, like Jeff Halpern, Mathieu Darche or Travis Moen. When the Canadiens try to make a splash, they hit bottom with Scott Gomez (and we wonder if Erik Cole is worth the $4.5 million per year, for four years?)
Want to know how bad things are looking for Montreal, despite the recent wins over the Flyers and Bruins? The Leafs just might have a better blueprint in place right now.
Nobody asked, but ...
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Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor.
He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org