Since taking over behind the bench for the Habs mid-season, Dominique Ducharme has had an up and down season, but ultimately succeeded in getting the team to the playoffs. The jury is still out on Ducharme with many fans, and regrettably things have not started well for him after only one practice.
To be fair to Ducharme, this was by all accounts, a difficult season to come in as an interim coach. Things were tense for a while but there are certainly factors at play that were beyond the control of Ducharme. Playing 25 games in 43 days to close out the season being one of them. This was compounded with injuries and some obvious fatigue, however kudos to Ducharme for keeping the team together and getting to the finish line.
However, this is where the sunshine and rainbows end. Ducharme has his own flaws, as does any coach, however Ducharme’s seem to hinder his progress and it just always feels like the team has to take 2 steps back to take a step forward. The biggest quagmire with Ducharme is his roster and in-game management of his lines.
His predecessor, Claude Julien, was very consistent with his lines, never changing them (even in game) and letting the guys fight through adversity with their respective line. With Ducharme, if it doesn’t work, it’s immediately changed with zero attempt to allow the line to battle through adversity and acclimate to each other. To each their own really, and again if we are being fair, injuries played a big factor in this, as some prominent players missed a significant amount of time.
With the team finally healthy (for the most part), Ducharme finally has all of his options at his disposal, and I’m here to say that the initial line up decisions are questionable at best. The opening lines at practice today as worrisome for a couple of reasons. First and foremost, Ducharme trying to save his job should not come at the expense of the team’s young core players getting playoff experience. The Habs are playing with house money and Ducharme doesn’t even want to see the flop.
The primary criticism during the Bergevin era has been the team’s inability to properly develop their top talent. You can see why when you have two central, young, core pieces occupying your fifth line. Of course the name of the game is to win and the playoffs are not the time nor the place to develop prospects, however even if the Habs win the game or the series, they lose in the bigger picture by keeping their two prized first round picks in the press box.
Again to be fair to Ducharme it’s the first practice and I don’t hate the idea of making KK and Caufield in their spots in the lineup between now and Game 1. There is also the added nuance of final change and I will also concede to the fact that I do like some of these line combinations. A final caveat I will add in Ducharme’s defense (in the spirit of fairness), he is a first time coach with possibly an extension on the line based on his performance in the playoffs. It’s not the worst strategy to rely on the experience of your vets when you do not have any experience yourself.
Ducharme has yet to show any ability to know how to properly utilize the young players on his roster. The way that Kotkaniemi was managed and developed this season is a prime example, and that is a deeeeeeep rabbit hole to avoid so this article doesn’t become a 3 hour read. For a team that is in the infancy stages of bringing up a new class or prospects over the next few years, you need a coach that can properly segway players from the minors into becoming full time pros. Ducharme has failed to provide any hope or inspiration that he can properly bring players into the NHL and develop them.
I hate being pessimistic going into the playoffs, I still think that this series is a toss up and it’s Habs vs Leafs, I feel like I’m jacked up on Mountain Dew getting ready for this series. The Habs were able to shock Pittsburgh last season by being bold with their line up, so to Ducharme I would like to say: let’s at least see the f***ing flop.
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