(Note: This is a repost of a comment I made last night on Habs Eyes on the Prize, which in hindsight was large enough to warrant the move.)
To follow up the prior point about rookie head coaches, I took a look at the coaches from ’79 to present (always a convenient interval in examining the merely-mortal Habs) to see what I could unearth:
1) Bernie Geoffrion (1979) – Shockingly, one of the most experienced hires of the modern era, with a half-year as a player-coach in New York (the NHL’s last, if memory serves, with only Glen Sather of the WHA’s Oilers succeeding him in major-pro) and three years behind the bench of the expansion Atlanta Flames. Only lasted 30 games due to health concerns, and never coached again.
2) Claude Ruel (1979-81) – A retread from the pre-Bowman days brought back after Geoffrion’s retirement. Fired after getting swept by the Oilers in three straight, and never coached again.
3) Bob Berry (1981-84) – Got into coaching his old team, the LA Kings, shortly after retiring. Got the job in Montreal after three decent years in LA with no playoff series wins. Left Montreal three years later with just as many. Continued on the next year with the rebuilding Penguins and, after a five-year hiatus, the Blues, who won him his only playoff series in 1993.
4) Jacques Lemaire (1984-85) – The first rookie on the list, who took over from Berry near the end of 1983-84. Led the Habs to the conference finals against the four-time champion Islanders before losing. Only lasted one more season with Montreal, but went on to win a Stanley Cup in New Jersey (‘95), and also guided the still-new Minnesota Wild to their only conference final in ’03.
5) Jean Perron (1985-88) – Won a Stanley Cup with Patrick Roy. Coached some decent Habs teams, but ran into the Bruins a couple of times and that was all she wrote. His only other coaching experience was a half-season in Quebec the following year.
6) Pat Burns (1988-92) – Now we’re into territory I can remember. Jack Adams and a Cup Final his rookie year, some solid regular seasons, but more trouble from the damned Bruins. Moved on to Toronto and Boston, where he racked up two more Adams Trophies and another conference final. Finally got his ring in ‘03 with the Devils.
7) Jacques Demers (1992-95) – As previously stated, had a dozen years of head-coaching experience going into the job with Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Quebec, St. Louis, and Detroit (the last of which earned him two Adams Trophies) before coming home to win the Cup. Also presided over the Habs’ first playoff miss since 1970 and was turfed four games into the next season. Coached a couple of awful Lightning teams afterwards, then moved into management and broadcasting.
8) Mario Tremblay (1995-97) – Yes, I’m ignoring one-game wonder Jacques Laperriere. Anyway, Tremblay was another rookie, and famously forced the Patrick Roy trade (though it might have been coming regardless), then failed to see much in the way of success. Made the playoffs both seasons, but that’s the most you can say. Now an assistant in Minny with Lemaire.
9) Alain Vigneault (1997-2000) – Wasn’t he the first of a series of coaches brought up from the AHL team to coach the big boys? Anyway, after his first year, the team never made the playoffs, though I’m sure personnel had nothing to do with that. Fired in late 2000, spent several years in the minors, then won the Adams his first year back in the Show with Vancouver in ‘07. Currently being made to look very smart by some Italian kid named Luongo.
10) Michel Therrien (2000-03) – Yeah, I remember the blow-up that was the beginning of the end of what was shaping up to be a magical ’02 run, between Theo’s heroics in net and Saku’s heroics just for showing up, never mind playing pretty darned well. Did much better his second time ‘round with Pittsburgh, getting to the Finals with some really solid young talent. It seems to me like he was a victim of injuries there, but whatever.
11) Claude Julien (2003-06) – Brought up from the shared farm team with Edmonton (an Oilers hire, too — I’m never sure if I should be bitter about that or not). Had a successful run in ‘04, but was replaced in ’06 by the GM. I always thought it was for playing Huet over Theo, but I was recently told he wasn’t helping the youngsters grow, so maybe that’s something. After a player revolution in New Jersey thwarted a promising season there, he’s found something good in Boston, being nominated alongside Carbo for an Adams last year. Jury’s out, but it’s looking good.
12) Bob Gainey (2006, 2009) – In Bob We Trust coached a series of mostly-bad sometimes-North Stars teams in the early to mid ‘90s, making a run to the Finals in his rookie year (1990-91), upsetting the defending-champion Oilers before being roasted by Mario Lemieux’s Penguins. Did much better as Stars GM, anyway. The Habs’ season turned around under him the first time around, though they wound up losing to the injury-blessed, eventual-champion Hurricanes (grrr). Fingers crossed the second time around goes better, though I’m not sure what I’d make of it if it did.
13) Guy Carbonneau (2006-09) – Obviously, we can’t know how he’ll do in his second job yet, but you have to think he’ll be a better communicator next time, no? I dunno, maybe he’s a better assistant coach.
So throwing out 1979-84, in which all coaching hires were vets, and again ignoring Laperriere, we have eight of ten head coaches being rookies in 25 years, and so far five of the seven who weren’t fired yesterday (Lemaire, Burns, Vigneault, Therrien, and Julien) have had equal or better success with subsequent jobs as they have in Montreal. True, every NHL head coach needs a starting point, but it seems to me that the Habs are giving out a disproportionate number of first-time jobs to guys who use that learning experience to become great coaches in other cities.