Fantasy Nuggets

Fantasy Nuggets Week 7

by Ryan Dadoun
Updated On: February 25, 2021, 5:32 pm ET

Whenever a head coach gets fired, the question I often wonder is: Was the decision to fire this coach a reflection of his performance or of the general managers? In other words, did the head coach have the tools to succeed and failed or was he not given a good team and then blamed anyways when they didn’t perform? Often times, the answer lies somewhere in the middle and that’s certainly the case for Claude Julien.

With a 9-5-4 record, the Montreal Canadiens are about where I think they should be given their roster. Maybe expectations rose after their hot start to the season, but I see the Canadiens as a decent team with some good players, but not one that stacks up against the elite of the league. Montreal wouldn’t look out of place if they made the playoffs, but I wouldn’t expect much out of them in the postseason either.

So by that metric, it’s a little surprising that Julien got fired for what I would consider a roughly on par performance out of the Canadiens this season and it makes me wonder if Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin wants to assert that they’re better than they are, at least by my estimation. At the same time, it’s not as if Julien is in his first season with the team.

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This was his fifth campaign with Montreal and they’ve been largely mediocre over his tenure. Is that his fault? I’d argue it’s more the result of the teams put together, but after five seasons a change is justifiable if for no other reason than to see if a fresh perspective can provide better results. Five years at the helm of the same team is a very long time by NHL standards and you need to be doing very well as a head coach to keep your job beyond that mark. Being just okay isn’t good enough at that point.

One other factor in all this is special teams. Montreal ranks 20th on the power play and 22nd on the penalty kill so far this season and throughout Julien’s tenure, special teams have been a major weakness. That’s one area in particular where the Canadiens have consistently underperformed and a coaching change might be the solution. Certainly their special teams performance over the coming weeks and months is one of the main things you should be paying attention to if you’re a Canadiens’ fan.

Coaching changes also offer players a fresh opportunity and we sometimes see players who didn’t look particularly good under one coach shine when their team swaps bench bosses. One player worth keeping an eye on is Jonathan Drouin. He’s seen his role decline steadily over the last four seasons from its height at 17:36 minutes per game in 2017-18 to just an average of 15:01 minutes this season. He has two goals and 12 points in 18 contests in 2020-21, which is a solid output given his role. It’ll be interesting to see though if interim head coach Dominique Ducharme can get more out of Drouin.

To that end, it’s worth noting that the two have a relationship that predates the Montreal Canadiens. Ducharme was the head coach of the Halifax Mooseheads during Drouin’s entire tenure in the QMJHL. At their height together, Drouin had 41 goals and 105 points in 49 contests with Halifax and another 35 points in 17 contests en route to his team capturing the Memorial Cup. Ducharme was named the CHL’s Coach of the Year in 2013 and Drouin was taken with the third overall pick in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. Drouin hasn’t fully lived up to the potential he showed in the QMJHL, but he’s still fairly young at 25-years-old and having his junior team coach at the helm could help.

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At the same time, one challenge Ducharme will have is that the Canadiens are a veteran team. Ducharme’s background is with the QMJHL and serving as the head coach of Team Canada in the World Juniors. The 2020-21 campaign was his third as an assistant coach of the Montreal Canadiens, so it’s not like he’s entering his new role without NHL coaching experience, but it’s fair to say that most of his career has been focused on getting the most out of youngsters and helping with their development. That would be a great background for a developing team with a young core, but Montreal isn’t that. As mentioned before, I don’t see the Canadiens as a serious Stanley Cup contender, but they aren’t a young-and-upcoming team either. Their core of Carey Price, Tyler Toffoli, Jeff Petry, Shea Weber, and Ben Chiarot is in its late 20s-to-early 30s, so the challenge for Ducharme will be finding ways to get more out of that veteran core as opposed to helping guide young players. Montreal isn’t completely devoid of younger players that need guidance though. Nick Suzuki is a rising talent in just his sophomore season and his continued development will now be one of Ducharme’s responsibilities.

He’ll also have Alexandre Burrows there to help him. Burrows had previously served as an assistant coach with the AHL’s Laval Rocket and was named an assistant coach with Montreal at the same time Ducharme took over as the interim head coach. Of course, Burrows is more known for his time as a player than coach. He had 205 goals, 409 points, and 1,134 penalty minutes in 913 career NHL contests, so he’s bringing with him a ton of experience and a lot of the players he’s coaching now are ones he was in the league with before he retired in 2018. Burrows’ primary assignment will be to guide their struggling power play.

Whenever there’s a coaching change, it takes a while to really get a sense for how different things will be going forward, but we’re going to get the first taste of the new Montreal Canadiens tonight when they play the Winnipeg Jets.