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It’s easy to blame head coach Claude Julien for the Canadiens’ eight-game winless streak.
It wasn’t Julien who boastfully gave Andrei Markov and Alexander Radulov “first-come, first-served” contract offers after the 2016-17 season and then watched them both leave, getting absolutely nothing in return for the two veterans.
It isn’t Julien who is paying defenceman Karl Alzner US$4.625 million a year to play for the AHL’s Laval Rocket with two more seasons after this remaining on his five-year, US$23.125-million contract.
While Marc Bergevin has made some good moves since the Canadiens finished 28th in the overall NHL standings two seasons ago and owner/president Geoff Molson decided to stick with him, those two big mistakes have come back to haunt the GM.
With no Plan B after Markov and Radulov both told him to take a hike, Bergevin was left with about $8 million in salary-cap space — money he still hasn’t been able to spend. It’s hard to compete in a salary-capped league when you’re leaving that much money on the table — or in the owner’s pocket. Bergevin should have been able to sign Markov or Radulov, but totally mismanaged the situation.
Alzner was supposed to solidify the left side of the Canadiens’ defence and replace Markov, but instead has 0-4-4 totals in 23 games this season with the Rocket, along with a minus-1 rating.
Radulov has 8-7-15 totals in 28 games this season in Dallas after back-to-back 72-point seasons with the Stars, totals that would have led the Canadiens in scoring both years.
There are a lot of problems with the Canadiens, who are 0-5-3 in their last eight games heading into Tuesday’s matchup with the New York Islanders at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio) and things aren’t going to get easier. The Islanders had a 17-5-2 record heading into Monday night’s game in Detroit against the Red Wings and were 6-3-1 on the road. The Canadiens are 11-10-6 and only 6-6-3 at home.
The Canadiens will hold a pre-game ceremony Tuesday night to celebrate their 110th anniversary by honouring 11 former captains: Yvan Cournoyer, Serge Savard, Bob Gainey, Chris Chelios, Guy Carbonneau, Kirk Muller, Mike Keane, Pierre Turgeon, Vincent Damphousse, Saku Koivu and Brian Gionta. It’s too bad none of those guys can still suit up and play.
At this point, the Canadiens can use any help they can get. And when it comes to Julien, his GM hasn’t given him much — if any — help this season.
It wasn’t Julien who signed Keith Kinkaid to a one-year, US$1.75-million contract this summer to be Carey Price’s backup and then placed the goalie on waivers Monday after posting a 1-1-3 record with a 4.24 goals-against average and an .875 save percentage.
It wasn’t Julien who gave Price an eight-year, US$84-million contract — including a no-movement clause — and it isn’t Julien who has a 10-9-3 record with a 3.18 goals-against average and a .898 save percentage. Those are Price’s numbers, ranking 45th in the NHL in goals-against average and 39th in save percentage through Sunday’s games.
Firing Julien isn’t going to be a quick fix for what’s gone wrong with the Canadiens, who got more bad news Monday when it was learned defenceman Victor Mete will be out for at least two weeks with an ankle injury.
At this point, it makes more sense to let this season continue to play out. The Canadiens were only two points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for third place in the Atlantic Division and three points behind the second-place Florida Panthers after Sunday’s 3-1 loss in Boston. If this ends up turning into an ugly repeat of two seasons ago, then Molson will have to blow things up after the season and start using the word “rebuild” while focusing on young prospects.
Does Julien deserve some of the blame for what’s happening? Absolutely.
It’s hard to understand why Jordan Weal and Nick Cousins are regulars on the power play and how Gustav Olafsson was on the ice in the third period Sunday night in Boston with the Canadiens leading 1-0. Olafsson, called up from the Rocket two days earlier, didn’t realize David Pastrnak — the NHL’s leading goal-scorer — was on the ice, allowing him to slip behind him and score the tying goal that led to the Bruins’ comeback victory. And the Canadiens’ penalty killing, which ranked 30th in the NHL heading into Tuesday games, has been horrendous.
But Julien has to use the players his GM gives him. This team simply isn’t good enough, especially after injuries to forwards Jonathan Drouin and Paul Byron. Now you can add Mete to that list. Price has to be their best player and he hasn’t been.
You can argue whether Julien is a good coach or not, but there’s no doubt he’s a good man. I think he’s a good coach and this isn’t his fault. But Julien might be the one who ends up paying the price if this winless streak continues.
The good thing for Julien is that he still has two more seasons after this remaining on a contract that pays him US$5 million a year.
Bergevin gave him that deal.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019