Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Top Candidates for the Montreal Canadiens Head Coach Position

Marc Crawford - Chicago Blackhawks v Los Angeles Kings
Now that the Montreal Canadiens have named Marc Bergevin as their new general manager, the organization will turn its focus on finding the right candidate to replace interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth, who has been assigned back to assistant duties after taking over for Jacques Martin last December.

Bergevin already mentioned that the next Canadiens bench boss will need to be fluent in English as well as in French, so the list of potential candidates is essentially very short. The new head coach will most likely have experience as a head coach in the NHL and will need to be a proven winner.

A renowned and storied franchise, the Montreal Canadiens will need to select the right man for the job as Cunneyworth and his predecessor Jacques Martin failed to lead the team to the Stanley Cup Finals despite the unexpected long playoff run of the Canadiens in 2010, when they reached the Eastern Conference Final after upsetting both the Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins seven games.

In the meantime, Rick Dudley, now working with the Toronto Maple Leafs under Brian Burke, is set to leave Toronto after the 2012 NHL Entry Draft to become the assistant general manager of Bergevin as the two of them are close friends

This season, the Canadiens finished dead last in the Eastern Conference following a series of bad decisions and a rash of long-term injuries to key players such as Brian Gionta and Andrei Markov. As a result, the team will have the 3rd overall draft pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft that will be held in Pittsburgh this June.

Below you will find a list of potential candidates in alphabetical order:

Marc Crawford

Now an analyst for TSN, Crawford broke into the NHL as the head coach of the Quebec Nordiques in 1994-95, earning the Jack Adams Trophy for best coach of the year and winning his first and only Stanley Cup the next year as a member of the Colorado Avalanche. After two successful campaigns as the Avalanche's head coach, Crawford accepted a new challenge with the Vancouver Canucks where he coached for seven seasons, but failed to lead the team to the second round of the playoffs.

There, Bergevin played nine games under Crawford in the 2003-04 season. He then coached two years in Los Angeles with the Kings and two more in Dallas with the Stars before being relieved of his duties in April 2011. Born in Belleville, Ontario, Crawford is fluent in French as he learned to speak it when he was hired to be the Nordiques' bench boss 18 years ago.

Crawford, 51, was also infamously involved in the the Bertuzzi-Moore incident. On March 8, 2004,  Todd Bertuzzi grabbed Steve Moore from behind, and rode him into the ice, causing Moore to suffer three broken vertebrae, multiple facial lacerations, and ultimately ending his career. In the ensuing commotion, while Moore was lying on the ice, Crawford was allegedly laughing at the situation.

Bob Hartley

Another former Colorado Avalanche head coach from 1998 to 2002, Hartley, 51, won the Stanley Cup with the Avs in 2000–01. After five seasons at the helm of team, he was fired 31 games into 2002-03 campaign. He quickly found another job with the Atlanta Thrashers the same year, where he coached until the beginning of 2007 season, when he was fired after the Thrashers got off to an 0–6 start.

Before he accepted a two-year contract to coach the ZSC Lions in Zurich in the summer of 2011, Hartley had a successful career as a hockey analyst for the French-language RDS TV channel, TSN's sister channel. In his first season in Switzerland, he led his team to the league championship, but it is rumored that Hartley has an out-clause in his contract that would allow him to accept NHL offers. Hartley possesses the experience needed to coach a team in Montreal, where the media pressure is much higher than it was in Colorado or Atlanta. It is also reported that Hartley is a serious candidate to the Calgary Flames head coach position.

Benoit Groulx

Currently coaching the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL, Groulx is a dark-horse candidate as he might be ready to make the jump to the NHL after spending two seasons in the AHL with the Rochester Americans from 2008-2010. Groulx also took the Olympiques to the Memorial Cup in 2003, 2004 and 2008, before making the transition to the AHL.

However, two years later he returned to Gatineau after an early playoff exit with Rochester. The emotional Groulx is a long-shot at the moment for the position and it's highly improbable that Bergevin would pick him as the next Habs head coach. But should Patrick Roy be named Montreal's head coach, Groulx could become one of his assistants as Roy allegedly approached him about a month ago to offer him a bench position should he graduate to the NHL.

Joel Quenneville

Currently the head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks, Quenneville, 53, is a close friend of Bergevin, who recommended him for the position in October 2008, replacing Denis Savard at the helm of the team. Coach Q coached Bergevin in St. Louis at the end of the 90s.

With one year remaining to his current contract in the Windy City, it has been reported by Elliot Friedman of the CBC that Hawks GM Stan Bowman has given the permission to Bergevin to talk to Quenneville about a possible move to Montreal since Bowman and Coach Q don't get along very well, especially after this spring's first round exit against the league-owned Phoenix Coyotes.

The native of Windsor, Ontario, who has more than fifteen years of experience as an NHL head coach and has won a Stanley Cup ring in 2009-10 with the Hawks, is certainly considered a quality candidate at this point. While the former NHL defenceman doesn't speak French, he understands most of it and is able to say some words in French. Finally, I am certain he would not mind polishing his French during the summer to accept this notorious position in the hockey hot-bed that is Montreal.

Patrick Roy

The former NHL goaltender won the Stanley Cup four times with the Montreal Canadiens and the Colorado Avalanche. A close friend of Serge Savard, Roy is currently managing and coaching the Quebec Remparts — and his son Frederic — in the QMJHL.

Also a native of Sainte-Foy, Quebec, Roy is obviously bilingual and played with the Canadiens for a decade before asking to be traded following an incident with head coach Mario Tremblay back in the 1995-96 season. A very hot-headed and vocal head coach, Roy doesn't have any experience at the NHL level as a head coach.

While some experts believe Roy is a serious candidate to replace Gauthier, I would believe that Bergevin will lean towards a more experienced head coach to run the ship he just embarked on. Roy, 46, is very popular in Quebec among the fans and the media, but will Bergevin have the guts to name a rookie head coach to lead a young and rebuilding team back into playoff contention? I have my doubts about it.

Michel Therrien

When Michel Therrien replaced Alain Vigneault as the Canadiens head coach in 2000-01 he had no coaching experience in the NHL. A former AHL-defenceman, Therrien had coached five years in the QMJHL and three years in the AHL prior to joining the Canadiens. Therrien, 48, lasted only two and a half seasons at the helm of the Bleu Blanc Rouge before being fired by Andre Savard in 2002-03. Following his firing, Therrien returned to the AHL where he coached the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins before being named the Pittsburgh Penguins head coach midway through the 2005-06 season to replace Eddie Olczyk.

Therrien, lasted four seasons in Pittsburgh, leading the team to the Stanley Cup finals in 2007-08 against the Detroit Red Wings. Unfortunately for Therrien, the team lost the series and he then lost his job in the subsequent year after a poor start. Dan Bylsma took over and led the team to a Stanley Cup win that Spring, leaving a bitter taste in Therrien's mouth. The native of Montreal is now employed for RDS as a hockey analyst.

Alain Vigneault

Currently employed by the Vancouver Canucks, Vigneault, who will turn 41 in one week, boasts ten seasons as an NHL head coach, four of which were in Montreal about ten years ago. Despite the early first round exit earlier this Spring, Vigneault and the Canucks came within one game of winning a Stanley Cup in 2011-12.

With Mike Gillis announcing that he will return next season, Vigneault, a Jack Adams Award winner in 2006-07, has a much better chance of returning as the team's head coach now that the GM ,who gave him a vote of confidence at the end-of-season press conference, will be back. A French speaker from Quebec City, Vigneault, if let go, would not have any problems finding a new job, whether it is in Montreal or elsewhere thanks to his success with the Canucks in recent years.

Pascal Vincent

Vincent, a native of Laval, Quebec, became head coach of the QMJHL's Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in 2000 and spent eight seasons in the position before being named the coach of the now defunct Montreal Junior, leading the club for three seasons and coaching Habs forward Louis Leblanc in 2010-11.

Vincent, 40, joined the Winnipeg Jets staff as an assistant coach when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg last season. The young and inexperienced Vincent will need a few seasons as an assistant coach before taking the reigns of an NHL team. If the Canadiens are looking to hire a rookie coach, they are most likely going to pick Roy instead of Vincent, as Roy is a former Hab who is used to face the media frenzy surrounding the Bleu Blanc Rouge. While Vincent might bring a fresh and refreshing perspective as how to coach an NHL team, he will most likely make the transition to a head coach position a few years from now.

Other potential candidates: Bob Boughner, Gerard Gallant, Larry Robinson, Clement Jodoin, Paul Maurice.

Who would you like as the Canadiens' next head coach?

Follow Fred on Twitter to get updates on the Canadiens and the NHL in general.

(Photo: Victor Decolongon/Getty Images North America)


Quenneville just confirmed that he is not a candidate for the job Montreal. Coach Q will be back with the Hawks next season; however, he gets to pick his assistants and he chose to fire Mike Haviland.

Interesting development with Quenneville...and, to be honest, I thought it was a bit of a long shot to start with simply because he still has two years left on his contract.

Out of all the candidates you've listed, Fred, I've got to say that I really like the Marc Crawford pick.

I think Roy needs to get NHL experience before coaching the Habs.

Hartley is also another good choice as is Vigneault. However with Mike Gillis getting a contract extension, I think it is very possible that Vigneault stays right where he is.

Still, this all makes for an interesting summer on the Habs front!


I have to completely disagree with you. I think Crawford should be at the bottom of this list.

The only thing he has going for him is that he won the cup 16 years ago because if you look at his career since, he has been a bad to medicore coach since.

Since 1997-98 he has coached 12 seasons in the NHL. Out of those 12 seasons he missed the playoffs 7 times, lost in the first round 4 times and lost in the second round 1 time.

In that tenure he finished second to last or last in the pacific 8 times.

This is not the man I would like leading my team.

I would love to have Vigneault but I am not sure he will be let go so I think I am leaning to Michel Therrien.

Gallant is most palatable of your bunch, but he is just not french enough.
Too bad priority wasnt on team success and not politics.
Mediocrity is what they are shooting for i guess and if set the bar low enough, someone suitable should be easy to find.

In 14 seasons Crawford only made the playoffs 7 times, and only made it past the 1st round in 3 of those appearances, two them with a stacked Avalanche team. I'd gamble with a young coach with potential upside then go with Crawford.

I agree with Bryan and Anon (2).

What has Crawford done lately? Somehow, I get the sense that today's game has passed him by a bit.

Therrien, Vigneault (if available - unlikely, I know) or even Carbonneau seem like better fits.


Wait a minute. Did we just agree on something?

My bet is they will go with an experienced coach as Bergevin doesn't want to babysit his head coach in his first year as the Habs GM.

Vigneault all the way.
Quenneville and Bowman have apparently kissed and made up in Chi-Town so forget about coach Q.
Paul Maurice was a good fit in Carolina but do we really want more Leaf rejects among us?
There's not enough room through the double doors for Patrick Roy's ego and he would only destroy the will and morale of lesser seasoned players. (Loved him as a Hab but I'd hate to be under his tutelage.)
Most importantly, hire a Francophone. Although I don't care if our next head coach only speaks Chinese, apparently the coach's ability to parler français is foremost and I don't want to listen to the natives piss and moan about that for another season.

@4ever The problem with Vigneault is that he will most likely remain with the Canucks since Gillis is returning next year.

Re: your "other candidates" list, I believe I read this morning on Twitter that Larry Robinson removed himself from consideration.

I dunno. I'm leaning toward Therrien, and I'm definitely in the "pdqR" (personne d'autre que Roy) camp. Between his temper, his ego and seeing how his kids turned out... he's not our candidate -- JMHO.

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