In a scathing interview done by the Frozen Royalty on January 20th, Los Angeles Kings President & General Manager Dean Lombardi didn’t hold back on his feelings regarding the coaching ability of University of Michigan Head Coaching legend, Red Berenson who was in charge of Jack Johnson’s development in 2006 and 2007. Johnson was traded to Los Angeles from Carolina just prior to his second season at Michigan and this is what Lombardi had to say about Berenson:
“This guy has never had any coaching. Jack just did what he wanted.”
“Michigan is the worst.” Lombardi added. “For hockey people, if you’ve got a choice between a kid—all things being equal—one’s going to Michigan and one’s going to Boston University, you all want your player [going to Boston University]. Michigan’s players—[head coach] Red [Berenson] doesn’t coach. It’s ‘do what you want.’ He gets the best players in the country.”
Dean Lombardi has since claimed the comments were “off the record” and is furious at the website for quoting him but he hasn’t disputed the content. So, what does this have to do with Max Pacioretty you ask? Pacioretty went to the University of Michigan the year after Jack Johnson left to turn Pro with the Kings, to be taught and mentored by the great Red Berenson. Surprisingly, Max only played one season at Michigan before turning Pro himself, splitting last year between Hamilton & Montreal.
For those who might not remember, there were a lot of raised eyebrows at the time over the Montreal Canadiens handling of the situation and the pressure they seemingly put on “Patches” to turn Pro and leave University after just one season. And make no mistake, the move was unprecedented. Ever since the Habs started to actively target and draft American born players in 2000 with their early draft picks, not one of them (Hainsey, Komisarek, Higgins, Fischer or McDonagh) left University without playing at least two full seasons.
Last season there were a lot of rumblings as the season progressed over the apparent regression of many of Montreal’s prospects that were playing in Hamilton under Don Lever who was Head Coach of the Bulldogs for four years before finally being replaced by Guy Boucher last summer. In a brief interview with Mathieu Carle, who required season-ending shoulder surgery, Carle flat out stated that he’d learned more in three months under Guy Boucher than he did in two years under Don Lever.
Now, we don’t know for certain if the 70 year old Red Berenson has reached a point where he should consider retirement or if Don Lever was more concerned about trying to win enough games to get an NHL Coaching opportunity than teaching and developing our young prospects, there is certainly enough information circulating now to explain why Max Pacioretty was rushed to the NHL.
So, why wasn’t Patches sent down sooner? Pacioretty likely would have started the year in Hamilton if it wasn’t necessary to demote Sergei Kostitsyn just before the season began. Sergei thought he was guaranteed a roster spot by GM Bob Gainey because of a conversation they had over the summer while he was recovering from minor shoulder surgery and came into camp unprepared to listen and unprepared to work hard in practice. A message needed to be sent and Sergei showed it was the right move with a series of immature outbursts and trade demands.
In addition, Kyle Chipchura & Matt D’Agostini both needed to clear Waivers to be sent down to Hamilton and there were no other wingers in Hamilton ready to make the jump and contribute more than Max could from game one. Not long after, the injuries in Montreal started to pile up... at one point sidelining almost $26 million in payroll.
What put undue pressure on Pacioretty was the unfair expectation to be a leader of the group who were expected to provide the Habs with secondary scoring, which is exactly what happened when Lapierre, Latendresse, D’Agostini, Sergei Kostitsyn, Chipchura & Stewart all failed to contribute, forcing 35 year old Glen Metropolit and 21 year old Max Pacioretty to lead the “Next 6” in scoring. Calling up Tom Pyatt & Ryan White produced a combined total of 2 assists in 33 games played which highlights why Gainey couldn’t afford to send Max down sooner.
It took until mid-season but Hamilton Head Coach Guy Boucher has already undone a lot of the damage done by Don Lever and has gotten a number of our prospects back on track to a point where they can now be expected to do a decent job if called up. Improvement by Ben Maxwell & Brock Trotter, along with the healthy return of Sergei Kostitsyn has finally allowed Gainey the opportunity to send Pacioretty down to be helped by Boucher.
Now that Matt D’Agostini has agreed to a two week “conditioning stint” it’s clear a trade is coming before the Olympic break in order to reinforce the group of secondary scorers and reduce the pressure on Boucher to turn Pacioretty around before the trade deadline. Finally, Max Pacioretty is away from bad coaching and the pressure cooker to perform beyond expectations in his first full season in Montreal.
Safe to say, the next time we see Patches in Montreal, I think Hab fans will be pleased with what they see. Dr. Boucher, your patient awaits.