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Montreal Canadiens

Martin St-Louis Contract Extension Points To Growth As Coach

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Montreal Canadiens coach St-Louis

Many eyebrows were raised when the Montreal Canadiens announced Martin St-Louis would take over as the team’s head coach.

With good reason, too.

St-Louis had little to no coaching experience, making him the exception in the NHL’s head coach recycling program.

And yet, there was one aspect of St-Louis’ character that was beyond reproach; his desire to win.

That desire manifested itself in the individual growth experienced by many of the young players in the lineup. Ask any member of the Canadiens and they will confirm St-Louis is a fantastic motivator.

“I would run through a wall for him,” explained prospect Owen Beck following last year’s training camp. “And I bet everyone else in the room would do the same.”

Given St-Louis essentially won every possible award as a player, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better example of a player who defied the odds. As a reminder, Calgary Flames general manager Craig Button placed St-Louis on waivers as one of his first major decisions with the franchise.

Going from a discarded asset to a player who won the Art Ross Trophy, the Conn Smythe Trophy, the Hart Trophy, and the Ted Lindsay Trophy in the same season is a story that sounds like a Hollywood script that would quickly be rejected since it holds no bearings in reality, especially when we consider St-Louis also captured a Stanley Cup that year.

But having an impressive career as a player is not enough to become a good head coach, as evidenced by Wayne Gretzky’s disappointing tenure as the coach of the Phoenix Coyotes.

St-Louis experienced many of the same issues in his first two seasons behind the bench.

And while the lack of talent has limited the team’s success, there have been signs that St-Louis is improving alongside his young core.

He quickly recognized the importance of placing players in a position to succeed, as he did when he promoted Juraj Slafkovsky to the top line.

He also improved many of the technical aspects involved in coaching, such as using a timeout when the momentum is squarely in the opponent’s corner. Or pulling the goaltender when it becomes clear the Habs were in for one of their regularly scheduled difficult games.

After all, like many of his players, St-Louis was learning on the job.

But when it comes down to it, there were very few examples of St-Louis improving the overall play of his team. Yes, they offered honest efforts on most nights, but their underlying numbers cratered from the moment St-Louis took over until about three months ago.

Montreal Canadiens Next Step

That’s when the Canadiens started seeing real improvements. They still couldn’t match the talent of Stanley Cup contending teams, but the possession metrics improved significantly, including their share of high-danger scoring opportunities.

Say what you will about data analysis, but there’s a direct correlation between stats such as shot share (CF%) and expected goal share (xGF%) and a team’s penchant for enjoying successful playoff runs.

Without those improvements, you’d be hard-pressed to suggest St-Louis and his coaching staff were anything but cheerleaders. But now that the results have started to improve, it must be said that the process put in place by the Laval native is certainly starting to pay off.

There’s still a lot of work left to be done. But once you combine his pedigree, his communication skills, and his growth as a coach, it becomes apparent why the Montreal Canadiens decided to exercise the option to extend his contract for two seasons.

“We love him,” explained Slafkovsky. “He’s just so smart with all his ideas. It’s crazy to see someone looking at the game that way and it’s great to have someone like that because it gives you new motivation every day.”