Thursday, December 01, 2005

Tough days for Jacques

Jacques Martin must be wondering what it will take to catch a break. When he landed on his feet with the Florida Panthers after his dismissal from Ottawa, it was felt he would be a perfect fit for the young and developing Panthers.

However, things have not gone quite according to plan in Florida, Martin's Panthers appear in a horrid free fall, loss after loss with little in positive vibes to suggest a change of fortune is coming soon. He looks at a newspaper and his former team the Ottawa Senators seem to be thriving in the free wheeling environment of Bryan Murray, players that rarely saw the light of day when Martin was coach are suddenly filling the net and being talked about as possible Olympic team participants.

Martin's one time stumbling block the Toronto Maple Leafs are suddenly mere mortals when they play the fast skating Sens. Meanwhile back in Florida, Martin can't find any teams that he can beat. His most recent loss, to those same Maple Leafs that haunted him in his Ottawa days. Not only is the team showing a lack of interest in playing, but the fans are showing even less interest in attending. Which probably is a more alarming statistic than the current 13 game losing streak.

Al Strachan wrote a blistering critique of the Panthers under Martin in the Canoe papers on Wednesday, Strachan suggests that Martin has missed the boat in the new NHL, preferring his defensive style of play in a league that now is all offence, end to end rushes and speed.

The article explains to a degree the remarkable downfall of Roberto Luongo, once the money goaltender of the Panthers now a guy that struggles daily to keep his game on track. There hasn't been a day gone by in the last week, that has not featured a Luongo trade rumour. Last week he was bound for Vancouver, who knows where he's going this one.

It seems that when Martin joined the Cats, his first task was to fire the Panthers goaltending coach Clint Malarchuk, who had provided tutorials for Luongo and seemed to understand the subtle problems that all goaltenders seem to have. Martin replaced Malarchuk with his old friend Phil Myre and for whatever reason, he and Luongo can't seem to get on the same page. When you don't have your goaltender on his game you're already behind the eight ball, a place the Panthers have been for far too much of this year already.

Martin negotiated a fairly good contract for himself with the Panthers owner, Alan Cohen. Five years of job security, a rarity for an NHL coach was the reward for Martin joining the Panthers as head coach. Hired personally by Cohen, one wonders what the relationship between Martin and GM Mike Keenan must be like. With a losing skid of record proportions and a mercurial personality such as Keenan, flies on walls in Florida must be getting an exciting earful.

Despite the length of the contract and the bite that Cohen probably would face in terminating it, there are whispers in Florida, that he may have no choice but to end Martin's time behind the bench.

The last Panthers game featured tickets at 75 cents and still the arena was only half full. Something has gone terribly wrong for hockey in Florida, Martin may be the fall guy but the problems probably are a lot deeper than that.

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