One would think that I would sit down to write this article with loads of confidence. After all, coming off of correctly predicting the three finalists for Canadiens General Manager, I’m practically the Maggie the Monkey of Habs personnel decisions. But compared with the set of five or six competent candidates for GM, the coaching pool is a group of has-beens and may-never-bes.
I’ve taken the 15 names that have been suggested in several places, and grouped them into three categories. I’ve outlined their cases, and made initial judgments as to whether I’d give them more than a first conversation. I ended up with a list of 4 finalists, and I will break each of them down in a follow-up post. Enjoy.
Guy Carbonneau – Canadiens Head Coach 2006-2009, Currently RDS analyst
Pro: Carbo got the best out of a team that had no business competing in 2008, meaning that expectations were a little too high going into the centennial year. He was likely fired prematurely, and Gainey quickly realized that the problem was the players, and not the coach, as he followed that season by letting all 10 UFAs walk.
Con: Guy has admitted that his greatest problem is with communication. He also had a tendency to abandon line combinations too quickly. He’s been out of coaching for three years, but I would like to think that he’s learned a lot from his time away and his successor's mistakes, and that he’d be more ready the second time around.
Verdict: If his communication skills have improved, I can think of worse candidates. While that may not sound like a ringing endorsement – that’s because it’s not – when it comes to this group of candidates, that means we’ll keep him IN CONTENTION.
Pro: Therrien did a solid job with the Penguins, taking them to the Stanley Cup finals in 2008. He’s pretty much the opposite of Cunneyworth when it comes to temperament – as explosive as they come - and that’s something the Habs haven’t had for many years.
Con: Much like Patrick Roy, one has to worry about how he would self-destruct if things didn’t go well. He was lousy in his first tour of duty with the Canadiens, and has also been out of coaching for three years.
Verdict: I don’t think he’s the right type of coach for this team at this time, and I’d worry how he’d affect the development of guys like Subban, and particularly Eller. ELIMINATED
Pro: He won a Stanley Cup 16 years ago, whatever that means. He plays an offensive style, meaning that guys like Subban would have freer reign than under Martin.
Con: The guy has had minimal success in the 16 years since winning a Cup, including no playoff appearances in five years of coaching since the lockout.
Verdict: While it may help in the sales department to hire an offensive-minded coach, it won’t help on the scoreboard. One must only look at the four teams remaining in the playoffs to understand how important playing a strong defensive game is. If you combine this fact with Crawford’s lack of recent success, as well as his idiotic nonsensical commentary on TSN this year, Crawford must be ELIMINATED.
Bob Hartley – Avalanche, Thrashers Head Coach – 1998-2008, Currently Head Coach of Zurich, in Switzerland
Pro: Hartley has won championships at every level, failing only to have success with a dearth of talent in Atlanta. He plays a defensive hard-nosed game, and won the Stanley Cup with Colorado in 2001.
Con: He’s known as a guy that can take a good team and make them a championship squad. That is why I believe he would be a great fit with the Washington Capitals. He’s been out of the NHL for four years, but at least he’s worked in hockey for a part of that.
Verdict: I have a lot of respect for Hartley as a coach, but I just don’t think he’s the right fit for the young Habs. I hope he gets another crack at the NHL, just not in Montreal. ELIMINATED
Jacques Lemaire – Canadiens Head Coach 1983-1985, Devils and Wild Head Coach 1993-2011
Pro: Lemaire has had a lot of success in the NHL coaching a highly defensive game, insulating goalies like Brodeur and Backstrom. He is highly respected, won the Stanley Cup in 1995, and turned the Devils completely around last season.
Con: Lemaire is already 66 years old, and for an organization that has already employed six head coaches in the past decade, a short-term option might not be ideal. Lemaire would also instill yet another trap-like system, although that didn’t seem to bother stars like Kovalchuk and Parise last season since the Devils were winning.
Verdict: He’s currently retired, and there are rumors he was asked to return to the Canadiens mid-season when Martin was fired, but declined. That doesn’t mean, however, that with more stable management and a large chunk of cash, he wouldn’t be open to return for one or two more years. He would be a respected presence and would help with development. IN CONTENTION
Jon Cooper – Norfolk Admirals Head Coach 2010-present
Pro: Cooper is the type of up-and-comer in the AHL that the Canadiens don’t currently have. Boucher would have been that guy, but he was poached by the Lightning, the organization ironically of which Cooper is a part. His team won an astounding 29 consecutive games, and is currently in the AHL’s Conference Finals.
Con: This will be a common theme for this group, but he’s an Anglo. It’s possible that if Julien Brisebois had gotten the job, Cooper would have been interviewed – considering his Norfolk connection - but with Bergevin, it seems doubtful. There is no way of knowing whether Cooper has the poise to deal with the pressure of coaching in Montreal.
Verdict: He won’t be in contention, but based on his track record, he should be. I wouldn’t be surprised if he becomes head coach in a place like Colorado or Columbus in the next couple of years, but he’s probably too risky at this point for a team like Montreal. ELIMINATED
John Hynes – Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins Head Coach 2010-present
Pro: Hynes came out of the US National Team Development Program, and helped to advance young Americans like Patrick Kane. He’s a good Xs and Os guy, and stresses up-tempo north-south hockey. If that sounds familiar, it’s because he reminds players a lot of Dan Bylsma, his predecessor with the Baby Penguins, and now a successful NHL coach.
Con: Like Cooper, Hynes is unilingual, and has no NHL experience in any position. I would at least interview the American, but he’s also likely too much of a risk, and it’s hard to justify hiring an American Anglophone with no NHL experience in Quebec. ELIMINATED
Dallas Eakins – Toronto Marlies Head Coach 2009-present
Pro: Unlike Cooper and Hynes, Eakins played in the NHL, and has NHL experience as an assistant coach. He’s got glowing reviews from those he’s coached, and has had success at the AHL level. He’s primarily a defensive coach, and despite the goaltending difficulties in the Leafs organization, has shut down the opposition year after year.
Con: Obviously, he’s Anglophone, and would be a first-time NHL head coach. He’s been passed over for the Leafs head-coaching job several times, but given the (lack of) success of those that have been chosen over him, that doesn’t greatly concern me.
Verdict: The Canadiens have the opportunity to hire a good young coach, with NHL experience, who was a former player, and now has a chip on his shoulder, who could one day haunt the dreams of Leafs fans? Of course….IN CONTENTION.
Mike Haviland – Blackhawks Assistant Coach 2008-2012
Pro: Haviland was a finalist for the Jets’ Head Coaching job last summer, and is seen as a sure-fire future head coach. He has a relationship with Bergevin, and is well respected. He’s a former winner of the AHL’s Coach of the Year award.
Con: Considering Bergevin – and myself – is looking for a guy similar to Quenneville, it’s doubtful he hires someone that apparently didn’t fit with Q’s mentality, especially when he doesn’t speak French. He also had trouble figuring out the Hawks’ powerplay, which is something that must be rectified in Montreal if the Habs are to compete. To me, he’s still compelling as a candidate though. IN CONTENTION
Patrick Roy – Quebec Remparts Head Coach, GM, and Owner, 2005-present
Pro: He’s got the pedigree, has been a Head Coach for seven years, and has the experience dealing with the pressure-cooker that is Montreal.
Con: Much like Therrien, he’s got the fiery temper that could cause things to go downhill fast, and unlike Michel, he’s got no NHL coaching experience.
Verdict: I wouldn’t trust Patrick, in this market, to be able to handle this job without prior NHL experience. He’s a sideshow that this team doesn’t need right now. Stay away. ELIMINATED
Gerard Gallant – Blue Jackets Head Coach 2003-2007, Saint John’s Seadogs Head Coach 2009-present
Pro: Gallant has had incredible success since being named Seadogs Head Coach, challenging for back-to-back Memorial Cups. He was a top candidate for the position with the Ottawa Senators.
Con: The guy was atrocious in three seasons with Columbus in the NHL, although he didn’t have much to work with. He also, deceptively, doesn’t speak much French.
Verdict: Not really sure why his name has been so prominent in some circles. The guy has failed at the NHL level, never making the playoffs, and has arguably thrived only on the basis of having a team stacked with future NHLers. I wouldn’t go there. ELIMINATED
Jean-Francois Houle – Armada de Blainville-Boisbriand Head Coach 2011-present
Pro: Thought of as one of the up-and-comers in the coaching ranks, and seems like a natural fit to occupy this role at some point, considering he’s bilingual.
Con: Like many of these candidates, he’s young (only 37 years old), but that didn’t prevent guys like Guy Boucher from getting NHL jobs.
Verdict: Probably not ready to go straight to the NHL, but certainly an interesting name, with potential. He shouldn’t be in the running for the main gig, but would be an interesting choice to come to Hamilton as the possible future head coach of the Canadiens. ELIMINATED
Benoit Groulx – Rochester Americans Head Coach, 2009-2010, Gatineau Olympiques Head Coach, 2001-2009 & 2010-present
Pro: Considered another up-and-comer, Groulx has had success at the junior level, leading the Olympiques to three Memorial Cup appearances, finishing as runner-up twice.
Con: In a short stint in Rochester, the Americans struggled, and Groulx’s willingness to move up to the next level must be in doubt, considering how he left the AHL after only two years in charge.
Verdict: Gatineau has historically been a breeding ground for Canadiens Head Coaches, developing talents like Pat Burns, Alain Vigneault, and Claude Julien. Like those names, however, Groulx would need development in the AHL. I would only consider him for the Hamilton job. ELIMINATED
Clement Jodoin – Hamilton Bulldogs Head Coach 2011-2012
Pro: He has NHL experience as an assistant coach, and AHL experience as a Head Coach.
Con: Yes, they had a discombobulated roster, but the Bulldogs were terrible last season. His QMJHL teams also haven’t had that much success, as he’s only qualified for a single Memorial Cup.
Verdict: Considering his age and experience, the fact that Jodoin has yet to earn an NHL head-coaching gig is a red flag to me. His name and results at every level don’t instill confidence as a fan. I wouldn’t go there. ELIMINATED
Pascal Vincent – Cape Breton Screaming Eagles, Montreal Juniors Head Coach, 2000-2011, Jets Assistant Coach, 2011-2012
Pro: Vincent is considered a top coaching prospect, and many believe he’ll get an NHL bench boss gig in the coming years.
Con: He had mixed results in the QMJHL, coming under criticism for failing in the playoffs with talented teams.
Verdict: It’s a common theme among this group, but Vincent needs to either spend a few more years as an assistant in the NHL, or make a Kirk Muller-like jump to the AHL to be a head coach. I would talk to him about the Hamilton job as well. ELIMINATED
Short-List/In Contention - I will discuss these candidates in depth and make a choice in a follow-up post in a few days