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Demers pulling for Therrien, Canadiens

Former Montreal coach: Loss of Price was too much to overcome

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

MONTREAL -- Jacques Demers coached 1,105 NHL games for five teams over 14 seasons in a span of 20 years. But nowhere was the spotlight brighter, the microscope finer, the second-guessing sharper and the criticism more stinging than during his 220 games behind the Montreal Canadiens bench over three-plus seasons from 1992-95.

So Demers, who last coached in 1998-99 with the Tampa Bay Lightning, has good insight into the current world of Canadiens coach Michel Therrien, the lightning rod in Montreal during a season that has lacked plenty of electricity.

The Canadiens are 34-36-6 in a season in which goalie Carey Price, who won the 2015 Hart Trophy, given to the League's MVP, and Vezina Trophy, awarded to the League's top goalie, has played 12 games. 

"This guy is suffering," Demers said of Therrien. "I've been there. You get to the point where you're having sleepless nights, where you start questioning everything.

"Michel was caught in a situation. … Carey Price himself probably would have won 10 games. A great goalie does that. Martin Brodeur and Patrick Roy did that. Jonathan Quick and Ben Bishop do that. These guys are so good that they win games by themselves because some nights you're just out of it.

"Michel Therrien lost the heart and soul of that team, which is Price."

Demers is the most recent Canadiens coach to win the Stanley Cup, in 1992-93, his first season behind the bench after replacing Pat Burns.

They were eliminated in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs the following season, then missed the postseason in the lockout-shortened 48-game 1994-95 season. When the Canadiens lost their first four games of 1995-96, outscored 20-4, Demers was fired and replaced for one game by assistant Jacques Laperriere before Mario Tremblay took the reins.

Since Demers' dismissal, the Canadiens have had nine different coaches, 11 if you count two tours of duty for Therrien and Bob Gainey.

"One-hundred points, 110 back-to-back?" Demers said of Therrien's 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons. "I know for sure how Michel feels. The Canadiens have to stop firing coaches."

Demers even pointed out two former Montreal coaches who each has gone on to success with a new team, a scenario most franchises see play out. 

"Claude Julien just became the Boston Bruins' all-time winningest coach," Demers said. "And Alain Vigneault has his New York Rangers on track again."

He's also quick to point out how much Price's injury torpedoed Montreal's season.

"I still maintain this, and I'm not saying this to please anybody: If Carey Price is there, Montreal is not out of it now," Demers said. "That's how good Price is. You can't lose your top player. He's also a tremendous leader, a silent leader. He doesn't have to yell; it's the way he works, like Steve Yzerman when he was my captain in Detroit."

Video: NYI@MTL: Price slides over to stone Okposo in tight

Demers said the injuries that slammed the Canadiens make this season one you can't compare to 2014-15, when they went two rounds deep into the playoffs, or 2013-14, when Montreal went to the Eastern Conference Final.

Demers believes Therrien will be back next season and predicts that all eyes will be on the coach from Day One.

"Michel is going to have pressure next year," Demers said. "I don't know what's going to happen to Carey Price. I don't know if he's going to be the same goaltender again. He has a style and if he can't maintain that style after this injury …

"Michel will be under tremendous pressure next year because everybody's going to watch. If for some reason they don't start the reason off right …

"It hurt them to start 9-0 this year. People thought they were going to win the Stanley Cup. You know how people think in Montreal. Michel may be forced to make a change at the assistant coaching level; he may want different assistants. But I think he'll survive and I hope he does."

Demers, in recent days, has also come to the defense of Canadiens captain Max Pacioretty, who has also taken his share of criticism for the season.

"Max was put in a really tough situation," Demers said. "I defended him and I meant that. He hasn't deserved the criticism he's been getting; this is a team thing.

"The toughest job besides playing hockey is being captain of the Canadiens. The bottom line is they don't have a great team. You can't put all the pressure on [Pacioretty]. In my opinion, he didn't deserve the criticism. We're not friends … when I run into him, I say, 'Hi, how are you?' But I have respect for him, and that's why I've said what I have."

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