Michel Therrien a stopgap solution for Canadiens

The Montreal Canadiens have hired Michel Therrien for his second stint as coach of the storied Original Six team. But something tells me this go-around will be much the same for him as the first one: he’ll enjoy a moderate amount of success, but not enough to keep him around long enough to take the Habs to the elite level.

As is the case with Bob Hartley in Calgary, Therrien takes the reins of a squad that is far from the cream of the NHL’s crop and by most accounts is in a state of transition. Things aren’t quite as bad in Montreal as they are with the Flames – the Canadiens have two dynamic young players in Carey Price and P.K. Subban who have no equal in Calgary – but they aren’t exactly on the precipice of a dynasty, either.

Yes, Habs rookie GM Marc Bergevin has some $25 million in salary cap space to use – more if the new collective bargaining agreement includes a contract amnesty that will allow them to flush Scott Gomez’s deal – but it isn’t as if the free agent market is teeming with clear-cut solutions to their problems.

There are no forwards who have the right combination of size, sandpaper and skill the Canadiens require at the top end of the lineup. They also could use some defensive depth, but not so badly that they overcompensate a few veterans in terms of both salary and term of contract just for the sake of spending money (hi, Chris Campoli!). They’ve got enough young defensive prospects in their system who should be able to step in and contribute. Eventually.

They probably won’t do so while Therrien remains coach of the Canadiens. His hiring has the stench of a stopgap measure, a consolation choice that will suffice for a couple of years before an ideal candidate becomes available. Maybe that candidate is current Lightning bench boss Guy Boucher; maybe it’s Alain Vigneault, who signed a two-year contract extension in May to continue coaching the Vancouver Canucks; maybe it’s Patrick Roy, if NHL expansion or relocation to Quebec City doesn’t pan out as many expect; or perhaps it’s Hartley, a rumored favorite to take the Habs job before he accepted the same position in Calgary.

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For now, though, the task of setting a new tone in Montreal falls to Therrien, known as a gruff taskmaster who will likely remove all the wattage from Subban’s luminous smile as he implements his defense-minded game plan. Unfortunately, the problem with the Canadiens isn’t their defense – Montreal was 11th overall in the league with a 2.61 goals-against average – but rather their offense (19th overall at an average of 2.52 goals-for per game). Unless Therrien has been spending his three years away from the league learning voodoo tricks and taser techniques to rejuvenate Gomez’s offense or simply invigorate an underachiever such as Rene Bourque, he’s not going to help them in the area they need it most.

Some people will point to Therrien’s success with Pittsburgh (after the Habs fired him in 2003) as an example of what he can bring to the table. I say unless he’s bringing Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to the Canadiens’ table, he’s unlikely to take this group of players to the Stanley Cup final as he did with the Penguins in 2007-08. More likely is the pattern Therrien established in his first three seasons as Habs coach: he missed the playoffs one year, won a single playoff round another year and was fired after the third year.

Sure, Therrien can converse in both of Canada’s official languages and that’s obviously a necessary part of the gig. And sure, he will be more demanding and active than the comparatively comatose Jacques Martin. But if it feels like he’s the equivalent of the person you ask to the prom after the rest of your high school is busy going with other people and/or washing their hair, it’s because he is.

Adam Proteau is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to His Power Rankings appear Mondays, his column appears Thursdays and his Ask Adam feature Fridays.

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