If we've learned anything about the Montreal Canadiens this season, it's that they absolutely, positively do not know how to handle themselves under pressure. I don't know where that comes from or how high it goes, but it's evident that it at least reaches up to general manager Pierre Gauthier, and perhaps even further up the ladder.
Let's just take a look at some of the situations the NHL's most storied franchise has found themselves in this season, and how they've managed to make a complete laughing-stock of themselves each and every time.
FIRING PERRY PEARN
After a 1-5-2 start, the team needed a shakeup. So logically, Gauthier decided to fire assistant coach Perry Pearn just 90 minutes before a Wednesday game at Bell Centre. The struggles were very obviously not the fault of just one assistant coach, but Gauthier felt the need to do something to appease the angry masses of Canadiens fans who were calling for blood -- any blood.
Apparently, this was the decision on which the wheel landed. Never mind the mental confusion it caused for just about everybody involved. Or the lack of respect it shows for the guy getting fired. Or the basic lack of sense the move makes from just about any perspective.
When questioned about it, Gauthier's response was even more incomprehensible than the original decision. Via NHL.com, what he had to say about the choice to fire Pearn:
"We're going to function outside the box more than we have," Gauthier said. "This is one move in that direction. It's a not a big trade or a coaching change that we needed to get out of this slump," he said. "We needed a more long-term solution."
Um, right. Outside the box. Could've just said you were trying to send a message to your team, Pierre.
ACQUIRING TOMAS KABERLE
Of course, even that message didn't work. The struggles continued for the Canadiens -- you know, probably because Perry Pearn wasn't the problem -- and the next step was to make a trade. Er, wait. Scratch that. The next step was to get completely fleeced by Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford.
Gauthier acquired the absolutely dreadful contract of Tomas Kaberle in exchange for the expiring contract of defenseman Jaroslav Spacek. Kaberle has two years left on that deal after this season, and after the trade, Rutherford trolled the hell out of Gauthier, saying publicly that he "should have known better" than to sign Kaberle to that deal in the first place.
The message? Yeah, you probably should've known better than to take it off my hands, man.
RANDY CUNNEYWORTH DOESN'T SPEAK FRENCH
It was bad enough that Gauthier waited four months to fire Jacques Martin -- if you're going to fire the coach in the middle of the season, what's the point in putting it off and making a bunch of other panic moves first? -- but then, he had to go and hire a guy who doesn't speak French.
That's actually the irony of the situation. Randy Cunneyworth was probably the best midseason hire Gauthier and the Canadiens could have made. He was already in the system as the head coach of the AHL's Hamilton Bulldogs, so he understood the philosophy and all of that. He was due for a head gig in the NHL after 11 seasons as an NHL assistant or a minor league head coach, and he had only been fired from a coaching job once in his career to that point -- along with the rest of John Anderson's staff in Atlanta.
Cunneyworth was the best choice, and probably still is the best choice for the team at this exact moment, despite the fact that the team is still struggling. But none of it matters, because he's not bilingual. Protests were threatened, newspaper covers were embarrassing for the entire city. Even more embarrassing, though, was the way Gauthier and the organization handled the backlash.
See, Randy Cunneyworth is a good hockey guy. I don't know if he's a good guy, since I've never met the man, but he's definitely a good hockey guy. And instead of saying just that in the face of the completely irrational protests that surrounded the hiring of Cunneyworth, Gauthier wound up apologizing for hiring his head coach.
I don't pretend to know all that much about the language issue in Quebec, and surely I'm selling it short here, but when you make a decision to hire an individual for a high-profile job like that, it's probably not good policy to essentially throw him under the bus for something that's not in his control.
Yet that's what Gauthier did. "Having a bilingual coach ... will be part of our decision going forward" is a really easy way to say "hey, Randy, don't get comfortable with that fancy office and nice bleu, blanc et rouge track suit."
Telling your current head coach that he can't keep his job because of the language he speaks isn't the way to turn your hockey club around, nor is it the way to treat an employee.
THE CAMMALLERI TRADE
That brings us to Thursday night, and the trade of one of team's best players. Gauthier shipped Mike Cammalleri off to the Calgary Flames in exchange for Rene Bourque, and his explanation for the trade might as well have been translucent.
We've been trying for all those weeks to get bigger up front. We felt as the season started that was one of the things. We have a lot of young players that have joined the team in the last year or so and now Mr. Diaz is here on top of that who is not very big.
We felt that if we want to improve the club we need to be bigger up front, and one of the reasons that it would improve the club is we need to score the hard goals. We need to score the goals that are not the fancy ones.
You can see right through it. Maybe there's some truth in there, but you can see the look on Gauthier's face as he spews this crap. He's not telling you the full truth. The Habs can talk about adding size and not scoring fancy goals all they want, but this has everything to do with Mike Cammalleri calling out his team on Tuesday.
Depending on the source, Cammalleri either insinuated that the Canadiens have a losing mentality, or he downright called them losers. In La Presse, Cammalleri was quoted as such:
"I can't accept that we will display a losing attitude as we're doing this year. We prepare for our games like losers. We play like losers. So it's no wonder why we lose."
It's pretty explosive stuff, and it caused an uproar as such things tend to do in Montreal. That uproar clearly led to the trade less than 48 hours later, and anybody saying otherwise is suffering from some severe naivety.
At the core, Cammalleri was just right. He was 100 percent correct in his assessment, and he was probably one of the few people in that organization who had the cojones to come out and actually say it in public.
Yet, for his efforts, he gets shipped out of town by a general manager and an organization that has proven time and time again this season that they can't handle any type of adverse pressure. Being the butt of the joke is now typical in Montreal.