This is shaping up as a lost year for the Habs -- the trip to the Eastern Conference final just three seasons ago a misleading aberration that created unrealistic expectations among the fans, and coach Randy Cunneyworth now a dead man walking because he is not bilingual. Are players really going to be listening to a guy they know doesn't have a chance of being back next season?
Owner Geoff Molson made it clear that unless Santa Claus grants Cunneyworth the ability to parlez, the interim coach won't be back on the job next season.
Given this mess, neither should general manager Pierre Gauthier.
The Ghost bungled the Jacques Martin firing and put Cunneyworth literally in a no-win situation. If the ability to speak French is such an important criterium for the Habs coach, why did Gauthier not have a succession plan that incorporates that reality?
If having a French-speaking coach is so important, having an heir apparent on staff -- an assistant coach, assistant GM, a scout (remember Joel Quenneville in the on-deck circle in Chicago?) who could speak French should have been near the top of Gauthier's to-do list. The best are always prepared for every eventuality.
Now the rest of the Habs season will be one rather large series of speculations about who should be running the club.
Patrick Roy as coach. Roy as GM with Bob Hartley as coach?
Agent Pat Brisson as GM (could he afford the pay cut)? Or Julien BriseBois, who started out with the Habs and is now the assistant GM in Tampa?
Or could the GM be Pierre Dorion, who has Habs roots and has done a good job helping rebuild the Senators on the fly, which is exactly what the Habs need?
Charlie Brown just got your tree, Habs fans.
HEAR AND THERE: As I mentioned last week, the Columbus Blue Jackets quietly hired former Pittsburgh Penguins GM Craig Patrick as a special adviser. Does that mean changes could be coming? We'll see. The Jackets blew a 5-2 lead Thursday night and lost 6-5 to the Nashville Predators. Just a thought, but I'd hire Jacques Martin yesterday. Maybe he doesn't have the greatest playoff record, but he's a solid coach and very strong at taking a team in disarray, getting it organized and making it competitive. That's exactly what the Jackets need right now ... Darryl Sutter has taken over in Los Angeles and the Kings won in his debut (new coaches are now 2-5 in their first games this season). Sutter's mandate: Get more goals. The Kings have now scored two goals or fewer in regulation in 13 consecutive games.
THE BUZZ: I like the take by Flyers goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov on his reputation for being eccentric, calling out defencemen who block shots: "They doesn't have the goalie gear, but they have to block the shot. So who is more crazy, me or the defencemen? Who is more weird?" Think you're still ahead, Bryz ... They are erecting a statue of Phil Esposito on New Year's Eve outside the rink in Tampa (which becomes the Tampa Bay Times Forum Jan. 1, FYI). The likeness cost $50K which was raised by local attorney and fundraiser Stephen Stuart. I'd say Mr. Stuart should give up the lawyering business because it sounds like he has a real gift for fundraising ... There are a few good stories in Minnesota with the Wild, including two 21-year-olds -- Jared Spurgeon and Marco Scandella -- as their top pair on the blue line. Spurgeon leads them in ice time. Not bad for a free-agent signing last year (he was drafted by the New York Islanders, didn't sign, went back in the draft and wasn't picked again).
JUST SAYING: I see where some people are suggesting Bob Gainey be given a prominent role with the Canadiens again to help stabilize a situation that is spinning out of control. Gainey has been around the team and, one would believe, has been party to the club finding itself in the situation it is in right now ... One thing most fans don't realize is how hard equipment guys work for pro sports teams. It was pointed out in Wednesday's 24/7 as the Rangers equipment staff rushed to get to the rink and have things ready to go. I know there have been many a time the teams I covered got into a city at around 3 a.m. in a back-to-back situation. The trainers went to the rink to hang the gear when we landed and then just slept at the rink. Glamorous life.
JUST WONDERING: Ottawa Senators coach Paul MacLean has to be in the conversation as coach of the year, no? The Hockey News picked the Sens to finish 15th in the Eastern Conference. Scoring looked to be the big issue, but MacLean has them tied for third in goals (going into Friday's games) in the East and scrapping for a playoff spot as we close in on the mid-point of the season.
THE LAST WORD: Sources indicate 72% of Quebecers don't want Pere Noel to visit this year because Rudolph speaks only English. Just kiddin'. Joyeux Noel, Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to everybody out there. Have a safe and wonderful holiday and value that time with those who matter most to you.
A look at what makes a hockey team work
There's a lot of stuff on an NHL coach's plate but, as rookie bench boss Kevin Dineen of the Florida Panthers has discovered, sometimes it's a challenge figuring out when to do nothing.
Managing an NHL player's time is the biggest difference from coaching in the AHL, Dineen told NHL Saturday. "You've really got to stay on top of managing rest versus practice versus games," Dineen said. In the AHL, Dineen said his team would usually play Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He would have his team practice on Monday and then have Tuesday off. "I never slept as well as I did on Tuesday nights," Dineen said.
THE GROCERY STICK
Who is -- literally or figuratively -- in that comfortable spot on the bench that separates the forwards and the defencemen?
The Montreal Canadiens scratched defenceman P.K. Subban, 22, and forward Lars Eller, 22, for what turned out to be a 4-0 loss to the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night. It has been a tough go for Subban, who has struggled this season. It's fair to say, though, he has been put in a tough spot. With a right knee injury sidelining No. 1 defenceman D Andrei Markov, Subban has been thrust into a role for which he isn't ready and the whole thing probably has been a little too much, too fast. He has been leading the Canadiens defenceman in ice time, averaging 24 minutes a game (25:01 during December), but his game has eroded lately under that workload. He was minus-5 in the three games, all losses, before being scratched. You have to like that Subban stood up and took responsibility for his play, saying he was a reason for the past couple of defeats.
HANGING IN THE LOCKER
Defenceman Jason Garrison, Florida Panthers
The 27-year-old is having a career year with the Panthers and it's mostly because of his shot, which is a bomb from the point. Garrison uses a Bauer Apex stick with a 110 flex to fire away. It has a bit of a toe curve.
Garrison had seven goals in 113 career games before this season, then had seven in the first 17 games this season. He now has 10 to lead NHL defencemen, two more than Nashville Predators star Shea Weber.
Garrison said he started being able to fire the puck at age 14 or 15 when he had a growth spurt. He has a heavy shot that just came about naturally.
Garrison had five goals in 73 games last season when he was cast in more of a shut-down role. "Last year in the offensive zone, I was just trying to keep all five guys in front of me. This is kind of a different opportunity. They want me to use my shot whenever possible and find some lanes to the net," he said.
Stevenson's Top Five Christmas wishes (hockey version).
It's that time of year for peace, love and understanding. Well, go look for it somewhere else. Here are my top five hockey wishes for the holiday season:
1. Randy Cunneyworth turns the Montreal Canadiens around and gets them into the playoffs. As we've seen the past couple of seasons, anything can happen at that point. Cunneyworth is a good man and doesn't deserve the circumstances surrounding his promotion to coach and the criticism he has faced for not speaking French. A good run with the Habs could get him a job somewhere else since many people -- including his bosses -- seem intent on running him out of town.
2. Some relief from concussions for NHL players. It's not something that will happen, but that's what this time of year is for, right? Hoping for a miracle? The frustrating thing is a few of the concussions suffered by stars lately have just been bad luck and nothing to do with dangerous plays by opponents, so all the kneejerkers can have another slug of eggnog and go back to sleep.
3. David Bolland getting his own radio show. The Chicago Blackhawks forward has a sense of humour and not enough players are willing to show that side of themselves. No matter what you think about his "Sedin sisters" comment (so wrong on so many levels), you want to hear what he'll say next.
4. Ilya Bryzgalov getting his own TV show. The Philadelphia Flyers goaltender has been the star so far on HBO's 24/7. Whether he's talking the parks in Winnipeg, being lost in the woods, the origins of the universe, or comparing his dog to a "hot girl," he has become a humongous source of entertainment.
5. More coaches like Pittsburgh's Dan Bylsma. He's wearing his ugly Christmas sweater this week because he participated in a practice shootout with his players and, as you might expect for a guy who had 19 goals in 429 NHL games, he lost. And you wonder why he's coach of the year?
The number of coaches whom defenceman Tomas Kaberle has frustrated, er, played for in the calendar year 2011 (and, hey, there's still a week to go). Kaberle started the year playing for Ron Wilson (Toronto Male Leafs), was traded to Boston (Claude Julien), signed with the Carolina Hurricanes (Paul Maurice, Kirk Muller) and then was traded to the Montreal Canadiens (Jacques Martin, Randy Cunneyworth).
I got to thinking: With Cunneyworth now coach of the Canadiens, how many ex-Hartford Whalers are behind NHL benches? Four. (Cunneyworth, Kevin Dineen, Joel Quenneville and Dave Tippett). The team with the most alumni as coaches? The Toronto Maple Leafs with six: Bruce Boudreau, Jack Capuano, Muller, Quenneville, Joe Sacco and Ron Wilson.
The number of players used by the Minnesota Wild this season, to lead the league. The Buffalo Sabres and Winnipeg Jets have used 33. They still have a ways to go match the record -- 55, set by the 1991-92 Boston Bruins. Coach Rick Bowness used four goaltenders, 13 defencemen and 38 forwards that season and still managed to get the B's to the conference final.
The number of F-bombs dropped by N.Y. Rangers coach John Tortorella when he loses his temper in an intermission rant on this week's episode of HBO's 24/7. That was kind of disappointing, actually, given how often he has used the F-bomb in scrums just with New York Post reporter Larry Brooks. The bar remains high with (then) Caps coach Bruce Boudreau's 15 F-bombs during one rant in the previous 24/7.