It was without doubt the most uncomfortable looking Bob Gainey Canadiens fans have been witness to.
Beginning by addressing media in both languages, Gainey read from a prepared statement that touched on his decisions for bringing in Carbonneau as coach, the contract extension of this past summer, and his naming of Carbonneau as coach as his best move since taking the club's helm.
Conflict was written all over his face, as he did his best not to say anything to that would be taken out of context in regards to his assessment of his coach's performance. As the press conference proceeded, and questions grew more pointed, a layer of Gainey's stoic persona seemed to peel away, and his words became more deliberate and his concerns more voiced.
At first it looked as though the presser would turn out to be an exercise in denial, with Gainey protecting his long time friend. At one point, Gainey mentioned meeting with Carbonneau after the flight arrived Dallas this afternoon, and the GM qualified to meeting as a difficult one. Citing that both men had close to 60 combined years in pro hockey and had seen a lot of water under the bridge, Gainey said that Carbonneau understood the decision and the motives behind it.
Gainey said that the 2-0 loss to Atlanta caused him to reflect Saturday morning, and that after watching the game Sunday night, his decision was made.
When asked specific questions concerning whether players had come to him, or asked to address the notion of coaches without prior experience being hired in Montreal, Gainey pointed to other organizations and stated that such things were the norm.
As Gainey put it, players are always speaking about their concerns, year in and year out, win or lose. As for the rookie coach concern, Gainey detoured some, stating that Montreal had it's particularities just as any hockey city does.
Here's the entirety of the press conference questions, with those from the french side of media translated from difficult to make out audio.
Gainey Cites Habs Underperformance As Reason For Carbonneau Axing
"Good evening. I find myself with you this evening to comment on my decision on taking over as head coach of the Montreal Canadiens."
"I brought Guy Carbonneau to the Canadiens as a head coach in 2006. Last summer I extended his contract after the team enjoyed a successful season in 2007-08. Not long ago I responded to a question that was asked to me about my best decision since taking over as general manager that Guy was my best decision. The decision today can be seen as a contradiction to all of those, but in the last eight weeks our performance has been below average, and I believe that a change in the direction at ice level is neccessary."
"I began my reflexion on Saturday, and made my final decision this morning. With 16 games left to play in the regular season, I felt this change was neccessary in order to maximize our chance of being one of the team to participate in the Stanley Cup playoffs this spring."
"I will be assuming the responsabilities of head coach until the end of the season, along with it I will keep my general manager's duties. With with Pierre Gauthier and Julien Brisebois for support, I'm comfortable that I will be able to handle both of those roles.
Gainey was then asked if at any point if the threat of missing the playoffs influenced his decision and if he did so because he felt his own job was in jeopardy.
"I think my decision is based on my experience and my judgement about where our teams rests today, our competition around us, our performance not only in a specific game but over a period of time."
"Was I thinking specifically about my own job? I wasn't. Our goal was to get this team to the playoffs. With obstacles and setbacks that this team and every team has. My decision today by a large majority is based on those things."
Asked in french by Martin Maguire if it was a hard decision...
"Absolutely, Guy was a special player, a captain on the team. In his position, it was a hard one and he did his best to advance the team in his three seasons with the club. Today's decison wasn't an easy message to deliver, but I was at a point where I felt there was no other decision to make."
Again in french, what was in between Carbonneau and players that wasn't functioning...
"For me, what was most difficult thing to understand was the lack of consistency, whether it be in parts of the season, within games. That was one of the aspects of the game in which I hope I can improve."
La Presse's Francois Gagnon referred to the firing of Claude Julien three seasons ago, and mentioned that it was a conflict with the coach over starting Jose Theodore or Cristobal Huet in goal, that lead to his making the move. Gagnon asked Gainey exactly what he planned to do differently than Carbonneau.
"To be precise, there are several on ice tactics (Gainey's word - tactiques) I have in mind that I want to discuss with the coaches tomorrow morning. There will be discussions with the coaches to get their thinking on which players are best dressed against certain teams. You can be sure that I have my own ideas, but they will be discussed with the coaches in place to get a sense of why previous moves were handled a certain, so that I am best informed in going forward."
Gainey was asked in french about mistakes Carbonneau made, and cut it short....
"It's not a question of what mistakes we made. We worked as a team. Guy was in a position where he was responsible for the team producing, and for bringing about results, just as I am responsible in mine. We all know that NHL coaches fired one season are recycled and good to go somewhere else the next season. The inverse happens as well."
Asked if he took the firing of Carbonneau as a personal defeat of sorts, Gainey said...
"Well, I would have loved to not be here with you today, and be in a position where I was commenting on the great work of our coaches and players, but I find ourselves in a position which requires my intervention. The response is my decision today. I feel like it's neccessary to make a change, but the real answer will be the results 35 days from now, seven weeks from now."
Did he witness any evidence to suggest that the players had given up on the coach?
"Nothing specific. I think that there were certain games when I had a real confusion about the overall....it showed up as effort, but I felt it was like an emotional engagement to a game, where our team would not seem to be emotionally engaged....when most of the outside information, who we were playing, the importance of the game, the standings on that particular day, whether we would move up or down, shouldn't have reflected the kind of play and performance of our team."
The next question, about coaches and Don Lever was intelligible.
"Well I haven't had a chance to meet with all of the coaches. I've spoken with them. Don is going to be joining us and some responsabilities will remain status quo and some will change. Don, I felt, could bring us a fresh voice, maybe some fresh opinions. He could also bring us a connection to a number of players that he has had contact with in the last couple of years, where he might bring us direct day to day insights, or strong button pushing mechanisms to get certain players doing the things we'd like them to do."
Asked in french if he had the impression Carbonneau was surprised by the decision...
"I had a meeting with Guy this afternoon around five o'clock and we had a frank discussion. It was a difficukt discussion for us. But I believe that between the two of us, we have close to 60 years experience in the NHL. It's not the first time that we are in this position as players, coaches or administrators. It's a part of our work and we accept that when we come into it. That's not to say that makes it any easier, but it's a reality that's there for all of us."
An english reporter then asked Gainey to repeat the answer in english.
"Well I met Guy this earlier afternoon, or later this afternoon, after the team arrived from Dallas, and we had a good discussion. I felt it was a direct discussion. We each had a chance to express what our feelings were and what our position was. We both been around the NHL and pro sports for a long time, and in different capacities we've been part and parcel of coaches being hired and coaches being relieved of their duties. It isn't something that hasn't crossed out path a number of times."
Bob was then asked a pair of questions by Dave Stubbs, the first being if Carbonneau would be remaining with the organization in another capacity and the second invloving him standing pat at the trade deadline. Stubbs wanted to know if in light of that vote of confidence to the players, would a win against Atlanta have given Carbonneau a little more rope.
"To answer your first question, at this point I didn't discuss with Guy any ongoing responsabilities for him with the team. I think that today's decision has to be moved through and what happens in that regard would be looked at in the future sometime. I can't say that there could be anybody here who follows our team who hasn't had this question in their mind at some point in the last month. So, did he have more time? I started my reflexion on Saturday. I made a phone call to the club president to discuss it with him. I changed my travel plans not to go to Florida (for GM meetings). I watched the game closely last night and made a final decision this morning. So, had the team performed and played in the last few games, there's a possibility that we would be status quo."
Andie Bennett of Team 990 asked Gainey that now that he's wearing both hats, if he feels that as a coach, has his GM given him enough resources going forward.
"Well I feel that we have had some setbacks, like all teams have, because of injuries. But I also feel that we have some players who have been below their potential. It isn't a unique responsibility of the coach to get the players to their potential. The players have a responsibility. That will be my task, to get it laid out in front of them, to get a map of how certain guys, individually, can improve their play, improve their production and assist in the group effort of moving our team into the playoffs."
Immediately, without hesitation, Gainey answered, "Jamais."
The reporter proceeded to clarify, suggesting that maybe some players went to him to complain about their usage by the coach.
"Such a thing is not abnormal. The line I use is that I speak to the players concerning their careers. When a player thinks that the way in which he is being used if affecting his career, his life, that's when I speak with him. I've had that discussion with a number of players this season just like I did last year or the year before."
Another provacative question from the french media asked that after firing Julien in 2006, and seeing what he is doing now, does he fear the same thing reproducing itself with Carbonneau.
"As I mentioned before, there's a coach in Chicago who is doing well. Last season he was fired. There's a coach in Toronto that left his team after last season. That's the National Hockey League and that's the life we live. It's not to say a coach is a bad coach just because he was fired. The circumstances of competition, the circumstances of business, the circumstances of entertainment, taken all together produces days like today."
Next up was another Julien 2006 reference from the french media, asking that if communication was cited as an issue then, what makes you think the results will be better this time around.
"For sure, that can be a problem even on team who are successful this season. It's a problem that exists in any group of 25 individuals that are being asked to work together. And if you believe that there is a team at the top of their division without such problems, it's not true."
Next question wins the dumbest question award. Gainey was asked that seeing as it is his plan to go behind the bench to finish this season, if it was also the plan to return for the next season also. That was greeted with a terse, "Why don't we just start with this year."
From the french press: Were there philosophical differences in regards to how the goalies were used this season?
"Yes, but if Guy Carbonneau were in my position he would surely have made different decisions from mine. With myself now in his position, it's quite possible that I make different decisions from his. That's not to say that one is correct and the other one isn't. They're just preferences in philosophies."
Without prompting, Gainey expanded on those thoughts...
"But I would like to see our goaltenders protected better. I'd like to see our team play better defensively. Goaltending is one of our strengths. It's not acceptable to me that other teams have double the number of scoring chances that we have against them. That's one of the areas we'll be concentrating on. A change in attitude. A change of tactics. A change in results. It's to give our goalies and defense the opportunity to play games where the play in less in our own end.
In french Gainey was then asked about the conclusion he came to on Saturday. Was it a question of emotion, of decisons or strategy, or a combination of all, that lead to Carbonneau being let go.
"Saturday wasn't the first time I pondered the situation. A few weeks back I took a player away from the team in order to return him to it in better form. It was discussed with the coaches at the time, exactly what it was we could do to help improve the team's standing. We had lots of discusions. It wasn't a unique thing, or even two or three things that had accumulated that lead to this decision Saturday. But the game against Atlanta was an important one for us. On paper, our team should be able to beat or at least match up with teams that are far from us in the standings. It's our responsability to have the team play to it's potential. They didn't play to their potential Friday night in Atlanta."
Tony Marinaro of Team 990 upped the dumb question bar in alluding to the different tactics Gainey said he would employ and discuss with the coaching staff. He asked if the team would then be employing a different style of play and what tactics would be employed.
"I think I'll let you guys pick them out. You're going to have a lot of fun with that and could decide which ones you like."
"It won't be big. I don't think it's going to be a huge....just as an example, I would like to see us reduce or eliminate out numbered rushes against our team, out numbered scoring chances on the rush, and increase some for ourselves."
Then came this beaut from the same Sherlock...."does that mean play more aggresively?"
"It means more aggressive positionally, decision making, execution. A combination. It isn't going to be a black and white changeover, but we need to start to move towards being a better, stronger, more consistant team defensively and an offensive team that can take advantage of opportunities."
A final question on the day from the french side, and a good one. In regards to stability, in that the team has always preached that it wanted to establish such things, doesn't hiring and firing six coaches in ten seasons move from that. It was mentioned that Gainey stayed with Hitchcock for all of his Dallas tenure. In Montreal, with all it's different circumstances, the most recent coaches hired here have had no previous NHL experience. In looking ahead, is that something Gainey would take into consideration.
"Going back to the start of last season, how many teams have changed coaches? It's not only Montreal that has problems like that. Of course, in Montreal, there are unique challenges, but in other places, they have challenges that are unique to them. There's a model for each team and city. In Montreal's case, there's added spice."
Asked to repeat in english, Gainey answered, "If I could remember what I just said..."
"Well I think Montreal is a challenging place. It has challenges that aren't in other places, and we recognize it. Am I happy with it everyday? I'm not, but I think the guy in Atlanta is not happy with his puzzle either everyday. So each place has its own challenges, each place has its own things that need to be worked through, and Montreal has many advantages. We have strong support from our fans. We have strong support from ownership. Best to look at the advantages you take with you rather than the others."
Two more from Tony, and better ones this time.
Did Gainey get the sense any time this season, that the players coming from Hamilton were well developed, and that under the coaching staff, they actually regressed. Also, did the fact that Gainey had to intervene in the Kovalev saga hurt Carbonneau's chances down the line.
"I think that with the players who could here from hamilton, we've had good success with the development program, and the credit goes to Trevor Timmins and the credit goes to the coaches in Hamilton. We've had players, and as they're making that transition from Hamilton, from the AHL to the NHL, they go up and they slip back, and they go up and they slip back, and Ryan O' Byrne is a good example this year of a player that we projected in a certain....to stabilize in a certain place and creep ahead and his floor fell out from underneath him a couple of times. So that's anticipated too. So I can't say that the handling of the players here provided an opportunity for them to regress. The player is going to find his way, if he's found his way here. If he wants a place on the team and he wants regular icetime, and he wants X number of minutes, then he has to compete for it and earn it and produce with it."
"With the Alex Kovalev situation, I wish that I could tell you that it took days to put together, but I met with the coaches on that morning and I asked how I could help them, how can I help you with your team today. And as we discussed different players, Alex's name came up and i said leave him to me and I'll take care of him. And it didn't reflect on the coaches, it was me participating with them, and how can we get our team working better. And we were working together, and that was one of the items we selected as a place where, if we could find a better Alex Kovalev, if we could get him playing better, we would be better."
With that, the Canadiens media relationist states that beginning tomorrow, that Gainey will be made vailable to them on a regular basis.