By Lori Bennett
The bright lights in the NHL were lit in “bleu, blanc et rouge” this week as the Montreal Canadiens took centre stage once again. On Wednesday, the Habs announced that Coach Dominique Ducharme had been relieved of his coaching duties. Ducharme was named coach in February 2021, assuming the position after Coach Claude Julien was removed.
Ducharme’s early weeks with the team were unimpressive, and the Habs fell backwards into the playoffs, the fourth-place seed in the COVID-19 birthed Canadian division. But the Canadiens’ performance changed dramatically once the playoffs began. After falling behind three games to one to perpetual rival Toronto Maple Leafs, the tide turned, and the team came together for an amazing run.
The Habs eliminated the Leafs in seven games, and then proceeded to sweep the Winnipeg Jets in the second round. In the middle of the third round against the Vegas Golden Knights, Ducharme tested positive for COVID-19 and after eliminating Vegas in six games, the Habs saw their coach return during the Stanley Cup Final against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Cinderella run came to an end in five games. Ducharme will always hold a special, if brief, place with the Canadiens because of his role in that magical run.
Ducharme signed a three-year contract with the team in July. A short summer, and the departure of key players led to a very rough beginning to the season for the Habs and their young coach. On Wednesday, Habs brass had seen enough on the heels of several lopsided losses, an 8-30-7 record and sitting at last place in the league.
Shortly after announcing Ducharme’s departure, the Canadiens named Martin St. Louis their new Interim Coach until the end of the season, when all parties will re-evaluate the situation. St. Louis, along with Vice President Jeff Gorton and General Manager Kent Hughes, met the media on Thursday. Hughes said St. Louis is the “perfect embodiment” of the culture they wish to create in Montreal. St. Louis said it had been his dream to be an NHL coach. “Give me a chance, and I’ll show what I can do.”
Hughes told the media, “There will be changes. This is the first of several.”
It sounds like Habs fans had better buckle up. St. Louis, an elite goal-scorer in his playing days, has limited coaching experience. On Thursday night, Feb. 10, he took his place behind the Habs bench for the first time. It was a 5-2 loss in the rookie coach’s debut, but the players looked revitalized and hopeful. There are better days ahead.
On Thursday, the Edmonton Oilers made a coaching change of their own. Coach Dave Tippett and Associate Coach Jim Playfair were relieved of their duties. Jay Woodcroft was promoted from his Head Coach role with the Oilers AHL affiliate, the Bakersfield Condors, along with his assistant coach Dave Manson.
GM Ken Holland is desperate to save the Oilers season, which he described as “up and down like a toilet seat.” With the bench addressed, perhaps he will turn his attention to gaping hole in front of the net, which has been opened and closed like a laptop.
Elsewhere in the NHL, Brad Marchand of the Boston Bruins found himself at odds with the Department of Player Safety this week. Late in a game against the Penguins on Tuesday, Marchand sucker-punched Goalie Tristan Jarry. The NHL issued a six-game suspension, the eighth suspension of Marchand’s career. Big Beak is a charming fellow.
The NBA trade deadline was last Thursday at 3 p.m. EST. Heading into the deadline, the young Toronto Raptors had given President Masai Ujiri and General Manager Bobby Webster a clear message to bolster their line-up. The Raptors went into the deadline on a seven game winning streak, and in sixth place in the Eastern Conference. Playoff reinforcements were on the minds of fans as the clock ticked.
Before the clock struck three, Goran Dragic finally move on. The veteran was acquired this past summer in a sign and trade that saw Kyle Lowry head to Miami. Dragic was less than thrilled to join the Raptors, and at the end of the day only played a handful of games.
Dragic joined the San Antonio Spurs, along with a protected first round pick, in exchange for Thad Young, Drew Eubanks and a second round pick. Young is a veteran centre who was used sparingly in San Antonio, and Eubanks is a younger centre who may still be developed in the Raptors organization.
Make no mistake – this isn’t a blockbuster comparable to the James Harden deal, but the Raptors are in desperate need of bench depth and they got it in these guys.
The first week of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing is already in the history books. As of press deadline, Brad Gushue’s crew was off to a strong start but with a lot of rocks left to throw. The playoff rounds begin on Thursday, and Team Canada hopes to be there. The Women’s Hockey Team faced Sweden on Friday in the Quarterfinal, and you know the outcome by now and whether they’ve moved on to the Semifinal. The Men’s Tournament picks up this week with the Qualifying Round beginning on Monday. Canada’s hopes for Gold rest on these three.
Lori Bennett is a social worker, policy professional, recreational softball player and coach, and new ukulele-ist. Originally from NL and now based in Toronto, Lori loves a good hockey chat or debate, as long as it remains respectful. She posts game time thoughts on twitter as @lori10habs.