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Canadiens Analysis

Player Insight: Why St-Louis Is The Perfect Canadiens Coach

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Montreal Canadiens head coach Martin St-Louis

Few would have predicted Martin St-Louis would be among the five longest-tenured coaches in the NHL by the time he accumulated two complete seasons as the head coach of the Montreal Canadiens.

A losing record while coaching a rebuilding team is to be expected, but what St-Louis has accomplished in that short time frame has been remarkable.

A team that lacked direction, skill, and purpose now seems to be overflowing with potential thanks to a coach who understands how to get the best from his players.

Martin St-Louis’ Relatability

St-Louis holds a significant advantage over most coaches.

His ability to relate to the trials and tribulations of a hockey season has led to an important bond with his players, a bond born from understanding and experience.

St-Louis started his professional career as an undrafted player who was only offered a tryout by the Ottawa Senators ahead of the 1997-98 season, despite being named an NCAA First-Team All-Star and being a Hobey Baker finalist in his last season with the University of Vermont.

Once the Senators released him, St-Louis settled on signing a two-year contract with the Cleveland Lumberjacks of the now-defunct International Hockey League (IHL).

He would go on to become one of the best players in the NHL, as evidenced by his impressive collection of accolades from the 2003-2004 season in which he became a Stanley Cup champion with the Tampa Bay Lightning. St-Louis won the Art Ross Trophy as the highest-scoring player in the league, the Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player, and the Ted Lindsay Award as the most valuable player chosen by his colleagues in the NHLPA.

Few can better relate to the entire spectrum of emotions involved in playing professional hockey. He understands the frustration of players simply looking for an opportunity to shine, while also having a firm grip on the realities of being a player under the spotlight who is expected to produce every night.

A great example of his range is how he has handled the development of the Canadiens’ top line. Juraj Slafkovsky, Nick Suzuki, and Cole Caufield all took major steps in their development under St-Louis’ watchful eye.

He has his finger on the pulse when it comes to putting his players in positions to succeed. He also knows when to give more responsibility to his players once they are ready, as he did with Slafkovsky this season.

Martin St-Louis Development Skills

Only a handful of coaches in NHL history have shown the ability to develop players on the fly in the same manner as the Canadiens head coach. He has gained a reputation around the league for being a development whisperer to young players. Consequently, it has given General Manager Kent Hughes the confidence to go out and trade for young players who could be considered reclamation projections, such as Kirby Dach and Alex Newhook.

The reason why St-Louis has been so adept at developing talent is a little easier to understand from a player’s point of view.

As a player, all you want from your coach is for them to believe in you and instill confidence that allows you to play to the best of your abilities.

St. Louis is a master at this, and it goes beyond his penchant for motivating players with mid-game speeches. His ability to connect with his players helps him navigate the choppy waters of professional sports communication.

Simply put, he knows what to say, and when to say it.

He also understands how to keep the voracious Montreal media at bay when a player needs a little space to grow. His comments regarding Slafkovsky‘s development are a perfect example of this phenomenon.

“Do guys use Waze?” asked St-Louis when pressed on Slafkovsky’s relatively slow development. ” You put in your address, and let’s say you’re going to a nice place and you put your address in it, it tells you how much time it’ll take, how many miles, and then you get into traffic. What happens with your arrival time? Does it drop or go up? Do you turn around or keep going?

“You keep going. If you miss an exit, do you get frustrated and go home? Or do you get rerouted and still end up at the destination?”

Playing Style Martin St-Louis Implemented

Hockey players have goals and desires. They all want to lift the Stanley Cup, and ideally, make a little money in the process.

But there’s one undeniable truth linking all hockey players around the world.

They play because they love hockey. And they love hockey because it’s fun. Unfortunately, this is often forgotten in the grind that is an 82-game professional hockey season.

This leads us to the second truth of professional hockey.

Players thrive when they have fun.

With that in mind, St-Louis immediately implemented a system of free, fun, and flowing hockey, and it has been the perfect match for a young team searching for its identity.

Players want to learn from St-Louis. They’re willing to be taught by him because of his illustrious career, not to mention how he has handled his rising stars. He instills a competitive culture, which is crucial, but he also reminds them of why they fell in love with hockey in the first place.

Because it’s fun.

It’s the exact message he gave to top prospect Lane Hutson before he jumped on the ice for his first professional hockey game.

“I want him to have fun,” he said.

St-Louis’ Individual Growth

We need to remember the players aren’t the only ones learning on the job. St-Louis is still learning, but one thing is clear: he is growing alongside his players.

And he has given his players a sense that they are all in this together.

As a player, you want to feel like your coach is in it with you. And it’s much easier to play for someone you respect. Perfection is impossible, nor is it the ultimate goal.

However, there’s something to be said about the coach and the players developing their skills side by side.

It’s a common theme in the organization. From the management to the prospects, there’s a sense of unity which hasn’t been seen in Montreal for many years.

Martin St. Louis still has a lot to prove, but he’s made it known to his players that there is a process in place, and they will stick to this process, together.


Cam Weitzman is a former NCAA player who uses experience to provide important insight into the subtleties and details involved in hockey.

Martin St-Louis cover art provided by Annik Lemire.

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Harley M

You guys added a great addition in Cam, you can tell he has high-level hockey experience when reading his articles.

Marc Dumont

Agreed. There are certain things I simply can’t grasp because I’ve never been in a highly-competitive locker room. I’m not sure the Gloucester Hornets AA team from 1989 counts, either.

I even saw some of the behind-the-scenes stuff when I worked for the Habs, but that doesn’t mean I understand what’s going on.

Cam provides the perfect insight. I’m happy he agreed to join the staff.

Dan

Agreed! Well-written, insightful posts. I’m looking froward to more!
By the way, I’ve been a regular reader, but this is my first comment.

Tyrone

St. Louis growing with the team reminds me a bit of Cooper growing with Tampa. Of course, Cooper had a lot more professional experience prior to coaching in the NHL, but he wasn’t the coach he is now back then. He’s been the gold standard for coaches for several years now. Cooper also has a lot of thoughtful comments, just like Marty does. They both exude a zen vibe. Hopefully the end result for St. Louis’s growth as a coach also mirrors Cooper, with a couple of Stanley Cup triumphs in his back pocket. 🤞

Dana

Good piece Cam! Minor thing, Dach was aquired while Marty was still cutting his coaches teeth, well before he became the coach whisperer, lol.

Marty also tells the players the truth, but in a thoughtful way. He believes in them but doesn’t flatter them insincerely. He is a great teacher, which is a kin to a great communicator, but a bit different in that he recognizes what they need to know , demonstrates it and communicates it repeatedly. He is patient, with expectations. It seems he treats people individually and not all the same way. Doesn’t mean he is mistake free. I was puzzled with Xhekaj and Strubble as well last year, but it’s hard to measure short term. In fairness Marty is the only nhl coach Xhekaj has played for so I give credit as well as that guy is an intriguing project.

Rick bowness just retired as one of the longest serving coaches in nhl history and his legacy was equal passion for the game and the people that played it. The adage “people didn’t care how much you know until they know how much you care” is a decent summation. Marty is a winner that cares, already one of the best in the business.

Greg

I think he’s done a pretty good job, all things considered. What concerns me is the number of people who seem to think one or two forwards will solve the team’s woes. While the team was fairly competitive, and there was significant progress made in some areas, most games the team either blew a lead (or several) or had to mount a fierce comeback to make the game competitive. Hopefully, these issues will iron out with more experience both for players and coaches. I think they should try Anderson at center, at least in camp. He’s decent in the dot when his center gets tossed from the circle, and maybe his North South style will translate better if he’s at center. See how it looks when it doesn’t matter.

Bev Seney

You do not see most centers play North South because a centers job is to be where he is needed all over the ice. The problem with Anderson is he cannot carry the puck In traffic and he is not a good passer. He did most things right last yr but score goals. He had 3 or 4 good chances almost every game. As the season wore on you could see his frustration in his face. Off season he needs to work on his finish around the net at hig speed. That is how I see it anyway.

Robin

In my opinion Martin St. Louis is doing a very good job, but I think that Dale Weise would not have thrived under Martin St. Louis, as Dale would have always played on third or fourth line. Dale’s coach at the time would temporarily move Dale from the third or fourth line to the first or second line and this provided a spark as Dale scored some big goals for the team. Martin on the other hand seems reluctant to juggle his lines and shake seems up.

John Smith

I love St Louis’ potential but he needs to do for himself what he has done for the likes of Caufield and Slafkovsky. He needs a mentor- someone who has been in the coaching trenches for a long time in order to bounce off ideas. There is no way that having a consigliere at his disposal would impede his learning curve. Why is he reluctant to seek this out? Hughes has Gorton to become a better GM.

John Smith

I’m sorry Cam! This was an excellent piece. I look forward to more great pieces from you!

John Smith

My comment about Cam should have been under my first one. I’m still learning how to navigate this forum.