by Ron Spence
I was surprised by Saku Koivu’s cold comments when Guy Carbonneau was fired.
So, I decided to look at what different players said after their bench bosses were terminated.
When Bob Gainey fired his friend, Guy Carbonneau, he was concerned that the Habs weren’t playing to their potential.
“I chose Guy Carbonneau to be the head coach,” Gainey read. “I extended his contract after the team enjoyed a very good season last year. I responded not long ago while answering a question that he was one of the best decisions I had made. The decision I made today can be seen as a contradiction to all of those. But in the last eight weeks, our performance has been below average, and I believe that a change of direction at ice level was needed…With 16 games left in the regular schedule, I thought that this change was necessary in order to maximize our playoff chances.”
“We need our players to play up to their potential, and that was not playing to our potential in Atlanta.”
Habs’ captain Saku Koivu put some of Montreal’s poor play on the players, but mostly on Carbonneau and his coaching style.
“I didn’t feel that the players weren’t there for (Carbonneau),” Koivu said, “or weren’t playing for him — that’s not true. But sometimes things aren’t going the way you want and ultimately, he’s our boss and he’s responsible to get results and together we failed to deliver … You learn from your mistakes and experiences and for him, maybe from here on, he’s going to change his style. Who knows? But yeah, that probably wasn’t the strong point of his coaching — communicating. But we all have our weaknesses.”
Carbonneau had put the onus on the players, saying that his office door was always open. Koivu conceded that some players believed that Carbonneau didn’t talk enough, while others were happy with his approach.
“When you have 25 guys on your team, you’re trying to run it as a team and not individuals,” Koivu admitted. “One coach’s style is not necessarily going to fit everyone, and not everybody is going to like it. But as long as you get the results, then everybody’s happy.”
Renaud Lavoie of RDS – who is tight with Steve Bégin – said the former Hab had told him the players had been waiting for the axe to fall on their coach.
Luc Gelinas reported – and the GM acknowledged – that several players complained to Gainey about Carbonneau’s coaching methods and poor communications.
“I feel very sad for Guy . . . but at the same time, things couldn’t continue with the way the team is playing,” former coach Jacques Demers added. “The players would never say it out loud, but the way they played said they wanted him out.”
Chris Higgins wasn’t critical like Koivu:
“I don’t think he lost the team. I can only speak for myself, but I think that’s a cop-out excuse for the way we’ve been playing. I definitely wish I could have played better for him this year, especially since he lost his job. I haven’t played my best hockey, and that hurts for a guy I respect so much.”
Alex Kovalev also denied a rift.
“There were times when we didn’t play our best, when things weren’t working, but that doesn’t mean we weren’t trying,” Kovalev said. “Just because things weren’t working doesn’t mean that players didn’t like the coach.”
Rangers’ G.M. Glen Sather didn’t mention potential – but that the Rangers weren’t playing an effective style.
“We all have to take responsibility for this,” said Sather. “Something happened, something shifted. The players have to take responsibility for the way they play, and play harder and play smarter … We had lost our zip at some point. We were a fast, puck-possessive hockey club that was determined and worked very hard and moved the puck well. We’ve gotten away from that and that’s why we made the change.”
Unlike Koivu, Rangers team captain Chris Drury wasn’t openly critical of Tom Renney: “It seemed to work in the beginning. Clearly in this least stretch it hasn’t…I just think everyone right now feels for Tom and Perry and all the effort they put in to win here.”
The players were subdued after the firing, and many had high praise for Renney, who had the class to address his former players before he left.
“It’s a tough part of the business,” Scott Gomez said. “As players, it’s definitely on us. We feel 100 percent responsible, but also, we still have a lot of games left and we’re still in position where we can get into the playoffs … You hate to see a guy get fired, but you’ve got to keep going. You’ve got to find a way.”
“It’s obviously a sad day when you see good people let go like that,” Markus Naslund said. “We also have to take responsibility in what happened.”
Dman Paul Mara said: “I think whenever a team doesn’t play as well as it should, changes are inevitable…Last night was probably the back breaker.”
Henrik Lundqvist was similar to Koivu in his coldnesss:
“You have to accept that you need a change and this is the way we have to do it…You have to realize that this is a business. You get to know people really well and the next day they’re gone…You have to accept that you need a change and this is the way we have to do it…It’s all about winning, and someone had to pay the price. But we’re all responsible for this, it’s not only Tom. It’s about 22 guys in here. That’s why everyone doesn’t feel too good.”
Neither Sather nor the players mentioned Renney’s problems with his players.
“Renney’s biggest fault wasn’t his system,” wrote Rick Carpiniello. “It was his unwillingness to hold his high-priced stars accountable. That is all about to change.”
Tampa Bay G.M. Brian Lawton, like Sather, took some responsibility:
“Myself, certainly the players and the rest of our staff, we all have to take responsibility for this as well. It’s a difficult job. Ultimately, you have one person that’s paying the price for a lack of deliverance on performance for a number of people, or a team in this case….”
“This was a tough decision to make,” Lawton said. “Barry is a good man and we have a great deal of respect for him. We wish him nothing but success. However, the results were unacceptable and the players have to understand that we need to be better. Hopefully this change helps push them….”
Olie Kolzig – who had been through a number of dismissals in Washington – echoed the old cliche: “I guess it’s easier to fire a coach than trade 20 guys. Obviously, we’re underachieving.”
Marty St. Louis repeated this: “We’re all responsible here for what’s gone on….We have to look at ourselves in the mirror. Ask yourself if you’re doing enough. I don’t think a lot of guys can say that right now.”
Like Drury in New York, Bolts captain Vinny Lecavalier didn’t blame his former coach:
Joe Smith – a St. Petersburg Times reporter wrote:
“As for the players, the few we got to talk to seemed to share the responsibility for Friday’s firing of Barry Melrose. They said it’s an unfortunate part of the business, and that the onus is on them now to spark a turnaround.”
Later Damian Cristodero of the St. Petersburg Times, added: “I spoke to enough players today who said Melrose’s on-ice structure wasn’t what it needed to be. The game certainly is not any more about throwing the puck on the ice and let the best players win. It is about giving players detailed instructions. If this happens, you go here. If that happens, you go there. It’s systems.”
Lawton admitted to Melrose’s approach during his statement to the media: “For me, it’s not about the wins and losses every night. … It’s certainly part of the equation, but it’s not all of it. It has to do with philosophically where we’re going, where we’re at today, where we’re going tomorrow and where we’re going to be in three months or a year.”
EPILOGUES TO THE FIRINGS
As players and GMs have said various things about their fired coaches, so have the coaches responded in different ways.
Barry Melrose was a media person – before being hire by Tampa Bay – and quickly went to the media following his dismissal.
“I think the players didn’t want to play for me,” Melrose said. “I’m not a guy who sings Kumbayaaround the fire. I’ll let you know if I’m not happy with you.”
He then accused the players of pushing for his dismissal:
“…a lot of guys didn’t like to be held accountable with this team, and obviously, they went to (owners) Oren (Koules) and Len (Barrie) and said they don’t like this style of coaching and ‘would you get rid of him.’ I don’t think there was any secret about that.”
Damian Cristodero hadn’t found this to be true: “For what it’s worth, both Marty St. Louis and Vinny Lecavalier, the team captain, said they had not spoken to either owner Oren Koules or Len Barrie or GM Brian Lawton about Melrose’s firing.”
“We were not involved in any decisions,” Lecavalier said. “I don’t think anybody went up there and talked to ownership about it. It was their decision. It’s their team.”
In contrast, some of Guy Carbonneau’s players had actually gone to Gainey, and the former coach didn’t whine.
“In a room,” he said, “in sports, there’s a third that doesn’t like you, a third that loves you and a third that you have to swing to one side or the other. To know there’s people who are happy that I’m gone is kind of normal. I’m not upset.”
Carbonneau didn’t criticize Bob Gainey, and admitted that he had faults: “Communication goes both ways. One person speaks, one person listens; one person answers or doesn’t answer. I definitely had faults. I tried to correct them, but you don’t do that overnight. I think at every game I became a better coach. That’s what I hoped to keep doing.”
Guy Carbonneau took the high road, which will lead to another coaching job.
Barry Melrose, on the other hand, took another road which will only lead to burnt bridges.
Tom Renney hasn’t made any statements since he was fired.