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Is Jacques Martin next NHL coach sacrificed by struggling team?

Sean Leahy
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It's been a week in which three underachieving teams changed coaches, taking what they believe are the first steps in turning around their seasons.

The Anaheim Ducks, Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals all had higher expectations for themselves, weren't meeting them, and their respective GMs felt like a jolt to the locker room was needed.

Are the Montreal Canadiens in need of a similar solution?

The NHL's seventh-highest payroll, according to CapGeek, currently sits 11th in the Eastern Conference at 10-11-5; and this afternoon against the Los Angeles Kings, are threatening to lose their fifth game in a row.

After going to the Eastern Conference Final in 2010 and pushing the eventual Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins to overtime in Game 7 last spring, the Canadiens have played inconsistent hockey to date, post just two winning streaks (two and four games) through their first 26 games.

The Habs are 21st in the NHL in goals scored averaging 2.46 a game with Max Pacioretty (10), summer acquisition Erik Cole (8) and Travis Moen (8) leading the way. Mike Cammalleri is struggling with 13 points in 21 games and, of course, there's the goalless Scott Gomez. Carey Price has not matched the form that helped him become the backbone of the team last season.

A 26th-ranked power play should get a boost whenever Andrei Markov finally returns to the lineup; but will his reintroduction to the lineup be the saving grace? Likely not.

GM Pierre Gauthier and Head Coach Jacques Martin have a relationship dating back to their time in Ottawa with the Senators, but that tie for Martin was broken after the firing of assistant coach Perry Pearn 90 minutes before a game in late-October. Montreal has gone 9-6-3 since that shot across the bow, so what comes next: a trade or Martin going?

Gauthier, who did inherit much of the current roster from Bob Gainey, hasn't done enough to force change, and Martin has seemingly lost the roster and cannot find the right buttons to push.

From Dan Kramer of Habs World:

But the head-scratching personnel moves (the benching, the combinations, the d-men at forward, etc.) have gotten to be too much. On paper, there is no doubt that with a slightly healthier defense, your Montreal Canadiens should be a playoff team. If Martin can't weather the storm, and/or the return of Andrei Markov doesn't provide the anticipated kick to the team's rear end, he and Mr. Gauthier should both start cleaning out their desks.

Yes, Geoff Molson has remained relatively quiet on the issues the team is facing, but if a near capped out team can't earn him the significant revenues that come along with a post-season run this year, I have no doubt he will move to action. And maybe - just maybe - the Canadiens will finally add a star from this year's draft along the way.

Brighter days are ahead, Habs fans, as the Gauthier-Martin era is undoubtedly coming to a close. Let's just hope there is already a security block in place preventing Gauthier from making any bold moves of dealing youth for short-term fixes to try to save his job.

Montreal has been plagued with injuries and inconsistency with a highly-paid roster. Martin found some success in his first two season's behind the bench, but the current stagnant state of the team needs some sort of wakeup call. Will a healthy lineup force that?

Eric Engels of CTV sees patience on the horizon:

With Markov's return, with Pacioretty back from suspension, and Jaroslav Spacek and Chris Campoli nearing returns, Martin will face the pressure of finding a recipe for consistent wins. The Canadiens have yet to do that in the absence of most the components listed above.

If Martin gets his roster intact, he and Gauthier will face that pressure together.

I'm also of the opinion that Gauthier's holding off on making some trades until he at least gets a clear picture of what the team resembles with Markov running the powerplay.

It's the worst kind of atmosphere for Canadiens fans: wait and see.

They don't want to wait to see the Canadiens further damage their playoff hopes. And they no longer wish to see what Martin incorporates as a game strategy.

Through the quarter-mark of the season, teams now begin to slowly separate themselves from the rest of their conference. Points are important any time during the year, but gobbling them up early in the season helps relieve the pressure of trying to makeup ground later on.

While Martin still has his supporters despite the Habs' woes, there comes the time for franchises where, even if the coach isn't fully responsible for a team's swoon, it's time for a new voice. The tanks of Randy Carlyle, Paul Maurice and Bruce Boudreau all ran out while trying to reinvigorate their clubs.

Is there anything left in Martin's?

Photo credit: AP

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