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The players and coaches who make (all) the difference in sport

This is it. The die is cast, and all bets are off. We’re going to have a Super Bowl between two teams dressed alike, or almost.

The Chiefs and 49ers will face off in 13 days in Vegas. Who will win? Who lives will see.

The fact that the Chiefs managed to get the better of the Ravens proves once again that it’s not always the best who win, in life as in sports. It’s the winners… the winners… those who have learned to win and have that winning mentality. #WinningMentality

On the other hand, the Lions had to give in to the 49ers in San Francisco. Ask 51-year-old Eminem if it hurt to see the 49ers come from behind in the second half…

A few minutes of hesitation in the third quarter cost the Lions the victory: a missed fourth down, a missed interception, a dropped ball… the devil is often in the details.

The factremains that the Lions coaching staff has triumphed by the sword (and taken risks) all season long. Seeing them die by the sword is a fair return, don’t you think?

At the very least, they’ve given a lot of people a show and emotions over the past few months. And just because you lose in the penultimate week of the season doesn’t mean you’re not a winner… doesn’t mean you don’t have that much sought-after winning mentality. On the contrary, it’s with that mentality that the Lions have come this far.

Speaking of shows, Taylor Swift – who will be flying from Japan to Vegas at lightning speed in 13 days – will be in Nevada for the Super Bowl. It’s not too late to replace Usher… #LOL

At the ticket scalpers’ asking price, it would have been fun to have a quality halftime show, hehe.

Players and coaches who change teams
In every sport and at every level, there are individuals who have the ability to single-handedly change a team. Pat Mahomes, Patrick Roy, Lionel Messi, Mourinho, etc.

Closer to home, on Montreal’s North Shore, there was Arber Xhekaj.

At the start of the season, the Habs’ club-school was going nowhere. On December 5, the day before Xhekaj was recalled, the Rocket had a 6-11-4 record.

With Xhekaj in the line-up, the Rocket was excellent: 11-3-2. I could even have written 11-2-2, because in his first game, the Sheriff grumbled more than anything else. #ObviousAndNormalDefeat

Since Xhekaj’s recall to Montreal, J-F Houle’s team has been on a tear. Their record is 1-2-0.

In short, Arber Xhekaj has the ability to make an AHL team REALLY better. He’s helped Logan Mailloux take his game up a notch, he’s produced 11 points in 17 games, he’s commanded respect on the ice, he’s made his teammates “grow ” a few inches…

And he proved that, under the right conditions, he’s not just a guy who takes bad penalties. #NotJustAnAHLer

I hope Kent Hughes doesn’t give in to the temptation to trade him (even though several teams are calling), that Martin St-Louis stops criticizing him in public and leaving him out whenever he has a bad game, and that Xhekaj doesn’t start thinking too much on the ice.

Under the right conditions, Xhekaj has the ability to make the Habs a better team. Why do without him? Especially since he’s a fan favorite… and deserves better than he’s getting in Montreal. Let’s not regret how we treated the guy when he comes to hurt us – literally and figuratively – in a few years’ time.

The same in Edmonton
The Oilers have also seen one individual almost single-handedly transform their team.

Except that in Alberta, the guy doesn’t even play.

Kris Knoblauch has made the Oilers a much better – and much different – team than Jay Woodcoft’s.

Oilers record in 2023-24 under Woodcroft: 3-9-1.

Oilers record in 2023-24 under Knoblauch: 26-6-0.

And the Oilers have won their last 16 games! We’re talking about two universes here.

Knoblauch has also awakened Connor McDavid, whose production has exploded over the past two months.

Jacques Martin: the opposite
Jacques Martin is an experienced coach. You don’t coach in the NHL at 71 if you don’t know what you’re doing.

But if I had to do it all over again, I’m pretty sure Steve Staios and Michael Andlauer would be more serious about hiring Patrick Roy instead of Jacques Martin. When the owner dares to say in public that he regrets passing up a coach recently hired elsewhere, you have to wonder what he says/thinks in private! It must be 10 times sharper.

Firing Smith was the right decision. Smith’s Senators weren’t delivering the goods: 11-15-0. The problem was that they never recovered under Jacques Martin.

Senators record in 2023-24 under Jacques Martin: 7-10-2. Even with Brady Tkachuk, Jake Sanderson, Tim Stutzle and company, the Sens are dead last in the East.

And they have one REALLY atrocious statistic: they allow an average of four goals per game under Jacques Martin! FOUR !!!!!

I like Jacques Martin, but he should have stayed in the coaching bag; not out. Things haven’t improved under his watch in Ottawa. He hasn’t even caused a small spark. #ÇaEmpiré

What about Brendan Gallagher?
The Habs have several forwards on the injured list (Dach, Newhook, Dvorak, etc.) and on Friday, we learned that Brendan Gallagher would have to miss no less than five games due to his stupid elbow to the face of Adam Pelech.

Generally speaking, a team that needs forwards this badly and loses a veteran who’s paid an average of $6.5 million a year should figure they’re in trouble…

Except with the Habs and Gallagher, that wasn’t the case on Saturday night in Pittsburgh, when the Habs lost 3-2 in overtime, holding off Sidney Crosby and his gang.

This morning, listeners to BPM Sports spoke: the Habs are better WITHOUT Gallagher than with him, according to them.

Gallagher doesn’t give us much reason to think otherwise. He has just 16 points in 48 games…

He has a minus-21 differential, his team’s worst…

And he had just one point in his last five games before being suspended by George Parros and his department.

On one side of the spectrum of my morning analysis are Arber Xhekaj (in the AHL) and Kris Knoblauch, while on the other is Jacques Martin. Which side do you side with Gallagher?

That’s what I thought.

Unfortunately, Gallagher will celebrate his 32nd birthday in May and has three full years left on his contract at an average salary of $6.5 million. It’s not going to get any better…

Ah yes… I can’t wait to see if Patrick Roy can change the face (and performance) of the Islanders. The answer in two or three months. #PlayoffsOuPas ?

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