Michel Therrien has a rendezvous with greatness: as long as he can keep the Habs’ collective noses to the grindstone; as long as he can inspire the Canadiens to maintain their hold atop the Atlantic Division standings and ultimately win the division title then he will, at long last, enter the ranks of the fifty greatest hockey coaches of all time—according to my rating system.
Before this present season began, Therrien needed to wring a hundred point season and a divisional title win to crack the top fifty; or, barring failure to win the divisional title, he needed to lead the Habs to the Stanley Cup finals. Presently atop the Atlantic Division standings, all Therrien needs to do is motivate his players to maintain their closing surge and his place among the NHL’s coaching elite will be assured.
When this season began I had Therrien ranked 58th all time. If Montreal clinches the Atlantic Division title then Therrien will vault ten steps in rank; if Montreal reaches the Stanley Cup finals then he can advance another four paces; if the Canadiens win the Stanley Cup then Therrien has the potential to rank 35th on the top-fifty list.
Montreal’s mantra all season long has been defense, defense, and defense. Theirs is the best in the NHL and their penalty-killing ability is also strong. What’s intriguing is that the Habs have been winning with defense alone—a trait that harkens back to the Pat Burns era when Burns won solely with defense and goal-tending. Their sole sharpshooter is Max Pacioretty but what distinguishes Montreal have been the superb two-way skills of their forwards. Max Pacioretty, David Desharnais, Brendan Gallagher, and Dale Weise have bolstered Montreal’s defensive strength with their tireless work while Brandon Prust supplies the muscle and keeps the opposition honest with his aggressiveness on the ice.
Defenseman P.K. Subban adds to the two-way spirit with his golden play-making skills combined with his defensive abilities makes him the best skater on the Canadiens today.
But it is goalie Carey Price who is stealing the show for the Habs. He is having a career year and if he doesn’t win the Vezina Trophy this season then there is something wrong with the voting process. He presently leads all NHL goaltenders in wins, save-percentage, and goals-allowed average. He might even achieve the rare double-first of winning the Hart Trophy as well (the last goalie to do so was Jose Theodore in 2001/02).
Ever since his return to NHL coaching in 2012/13, Therrien has made a quantum leap with regards to his coaching development. Whereas in the 2000s when he had a coaching value of only +8 and an average season rating of +1.143 (and that includes the time he took the Pittsburgh Penguins to the 2008 Stanley Cup finals) in the 2010s Therrien has already doubled his coaching value and improved his ASR up to +2.667 (if Montreal wins the Atlantic Division and the Stanley Cup Therrien’s coaching value will quintuple and his ASR will go to +4.500).
If Montreal maintains its pace there is every reason to believe that the Habs will face the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference finals: déjà vu all over again but this time the Canadiens will have revenge working in their favor since the Rangers were the ones who denied Montreal a Stanley Cup final berth and more last season.
Greatness is in the hands of the Canadiens (and Michel Therrien) it’s up to them to squeeze it until it gives up its charms.