Canadiens Notebook: GM went with 'gut feeling' to fire Stéphane Waite

"You have to go by what you believe and I felt that my instincts told me that a change was needed," Marc Bergevin says about goalie coach.

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin says he still believes Carey Price is one of the best goalies in the NHL despite having a 2.96 goals-against average and a .893 save percentage.

Canadiens GM Marc Bergevin obviously thought goalie coach Stéphane Waite was part of the problem this season with Carey Price.

That’s why Waite was fired after the second period of the Canadiens’ 3-1 win over the Ottawa Senators Tuesday night at the Bell Centre. Price made 26 saves in the game and ended his personal three-game losing streak (0-2-1). Price now has a 6-4-3 record with a 2.96 goals-against average and a .893 save percentage.

New backup goalie Jake Allen played very well with Waite as his coach, posting a 4-2-2 record with a 2.12 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage.

Bergevin said he made the decision to fire Waite and hire Sean Burke as the new “director of goaltending” so Price and Allen could both reach their full potential.

“Well, Jake came in from St. Louis where he was very, very good last year so he just carried over from St. Louis,” Bergevin said Wednesday when asked why Allen played so well with Waite as goalie coach while Price played poorly. “He didn’t come here a goalie that was struggling. He came in here with being a pretty good goalie last season. So I don’t see a difference there.”

Allen had a 12-6-3 record with the Blues last season, along with a 2.12 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage. Price had a 27-25-6 record with the Canadiens last season, along with a 2.79 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage. Price played very well in the post-season, posting a 5-5-0 record with a 1.78 goals-against average and a .936 save percentage.

“Without getting into exact details of the goaltending issues, I go back to a pattern that I saw recurring the last few years,” Bergevin said about Price. “That’s why I felt it was necessary for me to make that change.

“I’ve seen ups and downs,” Bergevin added about Price’s play. “You guys saw it. Again, everybody goes through it, but it was a gut feeling that I had and sometimes you have to trust your instinct. You run a business, whatever you do, and you have some instincts you trust. You have to go by what you believe and I felt that my instincts told me that a change was needed.”

Bergevin said he still believes Price is one of the best goalies in the NHL. The 33-year-old has five seasons after this one remaining on the eight-year, US$84-million contract Bergevin signed him to that includes a full no-movement clause.

The new guy

Burke had an 18-year career as an NHL goalie and was hired by the Canadiens in 2016 as a pro scout for the Western region. He has also worked as a goalie consultant with the team. Before joining the Canadiens, the 54-year-old spent six seasons with the Arizona Coyotes, serving as a goaltending coach and director of player development before being named assistant GM in 2012.

Burke has been living in Arizona and will have to observe a 14-day COVID-19 quarantine after arriving in Montreal before he can join the Canadiens on the ice for practices. Bergevin said he expects that to happen on March 18, after the Canadiens return home from a six-game Western Canada road trip.

“Bringing Burkie closer to us makes the Montreal Canadiens better today,” Bergevin said. “And I say nothing against what Stéphane did because he did a helluva job and I thank him for that. But I felt that a new voice was important and a different voice with somebody who went through ups and downs of being a goalie. Because there’s not one goalie that plays at the same level all the time. There’s always ups and downs, but we want to limit the downs, the peaks and valleys. We want to make sure this becomes a little more flat line.

“There’s a lot of technicalities in a goalie, a lot of mental (things) with a goalie,” the GM added. “So sometimes a small change could make a big difference.”

Bergevin said he only started having discussions with Burke about having him replace Waite on Tuesday.

“It’s not that Sean was looking to do this,” Bergevin said. “He’s done it before. He’s moving his family during quarantine, it’s not something that he’s knocking on the door: ‘I want to do this.’ So not that there was a convincing period, but I could tell the guy wasn’t trying to say: ‘I want to be the goalie coach.’ It’s I came to him and I said: ‘Listen, I’m going to make a change and this is what I want to do.’”

Bergevin said Burke would start meeting with Price and Allen by video conference on Wednesday. Marco Marciano, the goalie coach for the AHL’s Laval Rocket, will work with the Canadiens goalies on the ice until Burke finishes his quarantine.

“Marco has worked with Sean before,” Bergevin said. “Just so you know, Burkie’s been involved in Laval in the past few years making trips with our goalies in Laval. He’s worked with Marco before, so I don’t see any issues. Obviously, the 14 days, that’s the protocol that we have to abide by. But I don’t see it being a problem.”

A new relationship

After working with Waite for the last eight years, Price will now have to build a new relationship with Burke.

“He’s a very good guy,” Price said. “Very easy to talk to. I obviously haven’t worked with him a ton and I’m looking forward to this opportunity to work with him.”

When asked what Burke might be able to fix in his game that Waite couldn’t, Price said: “We’re just going to work on simplifying things. We haven’t talked a game plan yet, so we’ll cover that when it comes.

“Sometimes change is good,” Price added. “Sometimes it’s just good to hear a new voice. It’s not to say that I didn’t appreciate what Steph was doing. It’s just sometimes it’s a necessity in pro hockey. … There’s ups and downs in every season and it’s all about trying to stay focused on your objective.”

High expectations

The Canadiens came into this season with high expectations and got off to a great start, going 7-1-2 in their first 10 games. They have gone 3-5-3 in their last 11 games and are now in fourth place in the North Division with a 10-6-5 record.

In the last week, head coach Claude Julien, associate coach Kirk Muller and Waite have all been fired.

“Yeah, it’s fair to say that I have high expectations,” Bergevin said. “I said from Day 1, I expect this team to make the playoffs and from there we’ll see where we’re at. But I have expectations that we have a good team, we could beat anybody if we’re on top of our game. And that’s why I felt it was important to make those changes. You don’t look forward to make changes just to make changes. But my job is if I see things that I don’t like and I could help, that’s what I have to do. That’s my responsibility.”

The Canadiens have a 1-1-1 record in the three games since Dominique Ducharme took over from Julien last Wednesday as interim head coach.

“I see little details of our game that had slipped away prior to that,” Bergevin said when asked about Ducharme’s performance so far. “That’s what I like so far. It’s a small sample, I understand, and Dom’s been working a lot in a short period of time. But I see a change already in our approach to the game. Not that we didn’t compete before. Just different ways that — without going into details what I like — just I see a difference, yes.”

Price said “it’s been quite the week” with all the coaching changes.

“But last night was a good step forward,” the goalie added about the win over the Senators. “As far as our team play, I feel like we’re moving in the right direction.”

Memories of Cammalleri

Bergevin’s decision to fire Waite after the second period Tuesday night brought back memories of former Canadiens GM Pierre Gauthier trading forward Mike Cammalleri to the Calgary Flames during the second period of a game against the Bruins in Boston on Jan. 12, 2012. Cammalleri didn’t play the third period, instead changing out of his equipment and returning to the team’s hotel.

“I don’t compare the two,” Bergevin said when the Cammalleri trade was brought up Wednesday. “Mike Cammalleri was participating in a game so (they) took him off the ice. It had an effect on the game. Stéphane Waite had no effect on the game.”

What’s next?

The Canadiens have a morning skate scheduled for 10:30 a.m. Thursday at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard before facing the Winnipeg Jets Thursday night at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., TSN2, RDS, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

The Canadiens have a day off scheduled for Friday before facing the Jets again on Saturday night at the Bell Centre (7 p.m., SNE, SNW, CITY, TVA Sports, TSN 690 Radio, 98.5 FM).

The Canadiens will then fly to Vancouver on Sunday to start a six-game Western Canada road trip.

  1. Montreal Canadiens goalie coach Stéphane Waite talks with Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price during a workout at the Bell Sports Complex in Brossard on July 21, 2020.

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