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Week 9 in One Word: Drain


/drān/ cause the water or other liquid in (something) to run out, leaving it empty, dry, or drier. Similar: empty out, remove the contents of, void, unload, evacuate deprive of strength or vitality.

The Montreal Canadiens were on the docket for three games this week. On Tuesday, they lost 3-2 to Tampa Bay in a Stanley Cup Final rematch. They were shut out at home on Thursday, losing 2-0 to the lowly Chicago Blackhawks. Then the Saturday night game was a road loss in St. Louis, with a final score of 4-1.

The team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals has been drained of significant contents.

It’s not new information. The off-season was not kind to the Montreal Canadiens. But no game has highlighted the extent of the drain quite like their first match of the year against the team that eliminated them in the Final.

When the Habs took the ice against the Lightning, they iced less than half of the players who were part of the team eliminated by Tampa last summer. They’re not missing bit parts. Significant contents were ­drained in the off-season – Weber, Danault, Tatar, Kotkaniemi, – and other important parts are unavailable due to injury.

It was loud and it was clear. This is not that team.

To their credit, the Habs played the Lightning with pride, and one could get lulled into the impression that perhaps they weren’t so bad. But then with a few blinks left the Lightning decided they would win after all, and two quick goals later the Habs had another loss on the books.

Is there anything more draining than thinking you can play with the big boys only to discover the big boys were mailing it in for the first 55 minutes?

One man’s drain is another man’s gain.

We’ve reached wacky status in the injury department. The latest significant report is that Tyler Toffoli required hand surgery and will miss eight weeks. Add him to a long list of core players to miss a chunk of time. Montreal leads the NHL in man-games lost to injury and illness this season.

The flip side is that for every man-game down the drain due to injury, a young player gets an opportunity to make an impression. As of this week, 13 players played their debut games for the Habs this season, and several of them played their first NHL games.

To truly experience the gains of a season already down the drain, the Habs will need to maximize the growth opportunities available. Suddenly, the NHL absolutely is a developmental league, and the coaching staff will need clarity on who is prioritized in development.

Guys like Pezzetta and Dauphin may get a moment in the sun, but the palapas belong to top prospects.

An uncomfortable coach cannot be allowed to drain the potential for growth that still exists in a lost season.

This week Montreal Canadiens Reporter, Brian Wilde, reminded us of a great sports story. Moneyball is a book by Michael Lewis, recounting the 2002 season for the Oakland Athletics. The story revolves around General Manager Billy Beane and his attempt to rebuild the team using analytics. The book was developed into a screenplay and released as a feature film in 2011, with Brad Pitt cast as Beane.

As Wilde notes, the book details the relationship between Beane and his coach, Art Howe. Howe had not bought into Beane’s philosophy and refused to field Beane’s preferred line-up. One feature of Howe’s resistance was limiting rookies while leaning on his preferred veterans. Beane couldn’t fire Howe for financial reasons, so his only recourse was to trade away the guys Howe insisted on playing.

Jeff Gorton has already said he does not intend to fire Ducharme this season, and yet, genuine buy-in from Ducharme is unlikely. The guy who hired him and believed in him is gone. There’s a new sheriff in town, and he will surely want new deputies. Ducharme is living on borrowed time. He knows it. The season is sunk, and his own career is circling the drain.

The awkwardness of the situation is on display every time a beat reporter announces the latest line combos from practice. Every coach is subject to jokes about the line blender – and then there is Dom. Not a shred of logic in who plays with whom. Plugs too prominent. Ice time too tilted toward veterans. Few guys played to their strengths. Self-sabotage on display like the Griswold residence on Christmas Eve.

It can’t continue.

We’ll never know what conversations have occurred and between whom. It doesn’t matter. Someone – anyone – must get the message through to Dom. If he wants to see the light of day as a coach in this league beyond this mess of a season, he needs to get on board with the new focus. The message may need to be accompanied by actions.

Sometimes you need to pour some things down the drain to make room.

Am I the only one who comes home from grocery shopping to spend 15 minutes clearing out the fridge? Some wilted lettuce and bruised bananas find their way to the bin. The sauce I no longer recognize and the wine I forgot to finish get washed down the drain. A necessary task to make room for new things.

Habs fans are in tough right now. Almost unbelievably, the season circled the drain weeks ago. A new regime has been initiated. But we haven’t yet started the process of pouring things down the drain. We’re still in that stage where we’re just watching the rot.

Make no mistake. The time will come when the clear out will begin, and it will be easier to imagine what can enter that new space.

It feels like we’re all just waiting for the first domino. Many assume there will be no deals until a General Manager is named. I’m skeptical. The Habs seem to still be in the stage where they’re sorting the process – building the group that will inform GM selection. By the time all candidates are identified, interviewed, shortlisted and the selection is named, we may be near the Olympic break.

Two months is a long time to watch something circle the drain.

Two months is also a long time to let Ducharme waste coaching out of sync with the plan. It might be time for a Billy Beane move. The exclamation point on that chat with Dom might be a trade of one of his favourite players.

The obvious choice is Ben Chiarot. A new GM is not going to change the plan to trade number 8. A GM who does not see this deal as obvious is not going to win the job in Montreal. It’s that simple.

Chiarot is in demand. There are teams in the playoff mix who need a top-4 minute-muncher who is mean and nasty while not being a dolt with the puck. There is merit in moving him before other teams accept their fate and fall out of the sweepstakes while also shifting the market with their own trade bait. There is wisdom in moving him before the Montreal injury bug eliminates the possibility. There is logic in moving him right around the time you have that chat with Dom.

There are others that make sense, but none will have the impact of moving Chiarot.

Gorton: Play the kids on D, Dom

Ducharme: The kids don’t give us the best chance to win, Jeff

Gorton: You have six wins, Dom

Ducharme: Chiarot is one of my strongest leaders, Jeff

Gorton: He’s on a flight to (insert city), Dom

Ducharme: Who will quarterback the power play, Jeff?

Gorton: (silence)

Ducharme’s discomfort is currently a drain on the Habs. Getting that under control is a priority. It may be necessary to pour some things down the drain to make it happen.

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