The Canadiens’ season was an incredibly difficult one, with the team falling from Stanley Cup Finalists in 2020-21 to last in the NHL in 2021-22. Longtime GM Marc Bergevin departed the post he had held for nearly a decade, and the team hired former Rangers GM Jeff Gorton and player agent Kent Hughes to lead their new era of hockey operations.
While the Canadiens still managed to lose enough to finish last in the league, the arrival of Martin St. Louis as interim head coach injected some much-needed life and optimism to the team. Now as their season concludes, it looks as though St. Louis’ time as Canadiens coach is set to continue. As relayed by Sportsnet’s Eric Engels, St. Louis “will be back” as the Canadiens’ coach next season, pending the completion of a contract with the Canadiens’ management team. In Saturday’s exit interview, Hughes confirmed that sentiment, stating that there is “interest on both sides” that St. Louis returns and that an official deal would be finalized soon.
This should come as no great surprise, given the deep connections between St. Louis and the Canadiens’ new management team, but both St. Louis and the Canadiens’ brass had been cautious about sounding too committal on St. Louis’ future for these past few months. That has changed more recently, though.
Speaking in an interview on the first intermission broadcast of last night’s TSN coverage of the Canadiens’ 10-2 victory over the Florida Panthers, Gorton made a firmer indication of his desire to have St. Louis return. Asked directly if St. Louis would return next season, Gorton said “I hope so,” and went further to elaborate on why he wants St. Louis back, stating that he is “a natural-born leader, he has a high energy, he’s got a passion for the game. He belongs in the game. We’re hopeful we can find a way to bring him back.”
Given the early returns of St. Louis’ time as the Canadiens’ coach, it isn’t difficult to see why the Canadiens’ top brass would be such big believers in his future. Under St. Louis, the Canadiens went 14-19-4, and although that record is not one to be proud of in a vacuum, within the context of the Canadiens’ season and given the state of the team he inherited, that’s a record that is worthy of commendation. But his record is not what is driving much of the optimism around St. Louis.
The Canadiens were playing lifeless hockey late in the tenure of the previous coach Dom Ducharme, and it is the stylistic changes and changes in energy that St. Louis brought that is driving much of the excitement about his coaching future. Numerous Canadiens players saw their seasons revived under St. Louis, perhaps none more so than rookie Cole Caufield.
Caufield was sitting at one goal when Ducharme was replaced and was widely considered to be one of the NHL’s bigger rookie disappointments. But under St. Louis, he has unlocked the upside that made him a top prospect and finished this season near the top of the NHL’s rookie goal-scoring race with 23 goals. He finished with 35 points in St. Louis’ 37 games coached, a pace of 77 points over the course of a full regular season. With that level of resurgence for one of the Canadiens’ most important players, along with other players’ seeing their seasons revived (such as Christian Dvorak, Jeff Petry, and Mike Hoffman), it seems as though the Canadiens’ group of players responds well to St. Louis’ style.
St. Louis has little formal coaching experience, and as a result, there will always be criticism of the Canadiens’ level of commitment to him so early in his coaching career. But his impact on the team at this point is undeniable. With St. Louis returning, the 2022 NHL Entry Draft in Montreal and the Canadiens potentially selecting one of the draft’s top players, this summer looks to be one of optimism for Canadiens fans.
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