Habs Coaching Candidates: The Unusual Suspects


Written by Robert Rice, AllHabs.net

The Unusual Suspects

Examining the Head Coach Candidates for the Montreal Canadiens

TORONTO, ON. — Now that Marc Bergevin has been named the General Manager and Executive Vice-President of the Montreal Canadiens, we find ourselves caught up in a much more interesting debate, who is to be the next Head Coach? While there were favourites for many speculating on the next General Manager and some (including this writer) got their wish, the new Head Coach debate is proving to be difficult to gain any traction.

The stumbling block is most arguably, the fact that it seems destined to be a bilingual or ‘mostly bilingual’ hire for the Canadiens, which limits them. The unemployed or even potentially unemployed Head Coach community field is quite short on quality NHL experience at present. Let us now examine what I’ve dubbed the Unusual Suspects as I doubt any other team in the NHL would list most of these possible candidates.

Guy Carbonneau

Current Post: RDS Analyst

Accolades: 1st-place in the Eastern Conference in 2008, 124 NHL wins.
Negatives: No coaching experience prior to taking over the Montreal bench and no appreciable experience following it. Cited for being a poor communicator.

Thoughts: Does the term recycling mean anything to anyone? Carbonneau had a very short term with Montreal, followed by a very unheralded exit that pleased fans more than it upset them. Carbonneau was criticized for poor communication skills, which is hardly what people are looking for considering recent issues with Montreal coaches and that area of the game. Given the need to mentor a number of young prospects over the next several years this seems like a very weak move.  His largely being removed from a Head Coach position in any level of hockey since 2009 hurts his candidacy as well.

Support Factor: Poor, Carbonneau has very few coaching credentials to back him up and media support will be light at best, fan support likely to be lukewarm as well.

Marc Crawford

Current Post: TSN Analyst

Accolades: Stanley Cup Championship. Jack Adams Trophy. one President’s Trophy for 1st place finish, 549 NHL Wins.

Negatives: Has missed the playoffs seven times since 1999 and has had only one playoff series win since 1998. Short two-year runs in both Los Angeles and Dallas since being fired from Vancouver in 2006. May bring unwanted attention due to the Steve Moore lawsuit that is currently still in litigation citing that he influenced Bertuzzi to attack Moore.

Thoughts:  Crawford in my view, is a ‘why’ candidate more than anything. His record seems very much invested in his early days in Colorado and the famous refrain ‘he’s won a Cup’ but that’s now over fifteen years ago and the NHL has had significant changes since then. In my view, the telling story is what he’s done since Colorado, a rather inglorious picture of missing the playoffs seven times and fired three times in the course of five years before being for the moment, pushed out of the NHL coaching field. I’m honestly not sure what Crawford brings to the table for Montreal that’s attractive.

Support Factor: Below Average, While he’s apparently made it known he’ll work hard to have better French before he assumes the post, he will not have that many backers outside of his NHL allies. Crawford’s Stanley Cup is well behind him and he’s had a very inglorious history in the league since the lockout ended. Fans upon learning his lack of results in the post-lockout NHL wouldn’t be quick to support him if Montreal started poorly.

Gerard Gallant

Current Post:  Head Coach of the Saint John Sea Dogs, QMJHL

Accolades: Quebec Major Junior League Championship, Memorial Cup Championship. 3 1st place finishes in the QMJHL.

Negatives: Short on NHL experience. Gallant has five years as an NHL assistant split between Columbus and the New York Islanders. Gallant’s professional Head Coach experience is from short term of service comes from 56 Wins, 76 Losses, 4 Ties and 6 Overtime Losses with the Columbus Blue Jackets from 2004 to 2007. His entire record of success is tied up in the utterly dominant Saint John team he coaches.

Thoughts: Gallant is in the high-risk quotient in my view. Gallant has shown an affinity for working with strong talent in the Quebec Major Juniors, having assembled the powerhouse Saint John Sea Dogs into a nearly indomitable force over the last three years. On the flip side, Gallant comes with the question mark of how he would do without such a supremely talented team to command. While it can be considered somewhat unfair to judge Gallant on his time as a coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets, his short term of NHL experience is a concern. If Gallant can guide Saint John to repeats as QMHJL and Memorial Cup Champions it may go a ways to supporting him. Saint John would be the first QMJHL team to win the Memorial Cup in back to back years since the 1981 Cornwall Royals. Gallant’s ability to work with such a high level of talent in Saint John does deserve praise however as it not always such a simple task to get so many talented players to buy into a team concept. He knows some French but is not fluent so he’d need a heavy backing from Bergevin, Molson as he began his tenure.

Support Factor: Below Average to Poor, If Saint John repeats, he’s certainly going to have the “winner” tag enhanced in the media but limited French and a lack of NHL experience will get cited. Media would be cool to it, but would argue in favour of his working with young players and championship record. Fans would like the idea of a young coach who might bring exciting hockey back to Montreal, but would be sour on his language and lack of solid experience.

Benoit Groulx

Current Post:  Head Coach of Gatineau Olympiques, QMJHL

Accolades: Three Quebec Major Junior League Championships, one 1st-place finish in the QMJHL.

Negatives: Very short on professional experience, two years as an AHL Head Coach with a 73-76-11 record before leaving and returning to Gatineau. Arguably, 3 trips to the Memorial Cup without a championship can be debated as well.

Thoughts: Groulx can be considered of the top coaches in the QMJHL at present. Groulx’s first set of championships can be considered quite impressive based on circumstances. in his first two seasons as a Head Coach, Groulx won consecutive championships. Groulx coached the then Hull Olympiques to the 2003 QMJHL Championship, then the following year, the renamed Gatineau Olympiques would capture 1st place in the regular season, than won a 2nd consecutive league championship. Groulx also proved he wasn’t a one-hit wonder as he took essentially an entirely new core in 2008 to the team’s 3rd league championship in six years. Groulx’s quick departure from the AHL to return to Gatineau is concerning as it leaves his quiver of professional coaching experience nearly empty. I’ve been told Groulx would consider an NHL coaching position.

Support Factor: Average, Groulx would have his strong QMJHL record and championships brought to bear certainly in the media and ‘local man’ factor never hurts in Montreal certainly. Fans would knee-jerk in favour of a bilingual coach with a good record with developing young talent certainly, but a section would cite his lack of professional experience.

Bob Hartley

Current Post:  Head Coach of the Zurich Lions, Swiss League.

Accolades: Stanley Cup Championship, AHL Championship, QMJHL Championship, Swiss League Championship, President’s Trophy for 1st-place NHL finish, 329 NHL wins

Negatives: Considered to be volatile, Hartley has been regarded by some as a coach to employ when your team is contending to win, but not to rebuild. Despite his championship record, Hartley has found himself unemployed in the NHL since being fired from Atlanta in 2008.

Thoughts: You can’t deny Hartley has been a championship coach. Hartley started in the QMJHL and in his second season, he won a league championship. After gaining a job in the AHL as an assistant, Hartley advanced the following year to be Head Coach, than he won a Championship in his 3rd year in the position. In two years, he was an NHL head coach with the Colorado Avalanche and won the Stanley Cup in his 3rd season. It seems when Hartley has the talent in place, he can motivate them into being a Championship group. The stumbling block comes from what happens after Hartley’s rapid ascent. Hartley went from being a Stanley Cup coach in 2001 to being fired, than immediately hired as the new Head Coach of the Atlanta Thrashers. Hartley had a middling run in Atlanta with only one playoff appearance, but given the personnel of the Thrashers historically, one can’t fault him too much on that account. Hartley’s inability to find work in the NHL over the next five years is what can really raise some concern. Given his body of work and the rapid changeover so many NHL franchises have seen in their coaching departments, one would think he’d have been hired back into the NHL after half a decade. Hartley would make more sense if the Habs were much closer to a Championship but he doesn’t seem like a long-term candidate.

Support Factor: Average to Below Average, Hartley would have rope because of his championship credentials but wariness about five years outside of the NHL would definitely raise concerns. Arguably volatile nature could create a negative relationship with the press.

Jacques Lemaire:

Current Post: Retired

Accolades: Stanley Cup Championship, two Jack Adams Trophies, 617 NHL wins.

Negatives: Championship and playoff series victories are a bit in the back mirror of his career now, no playoff series victories since a Conference Final appearance in 2003 and four missed playoff entries since. Seems content to be in retirement.

Thoughts: Anyone crowing for exciting hockey to return in Montreal would likely flip their lids on this hire. Lemaire is the personification of the Dead Puck Era of hockey to which many find generated the least interesting period of the league in decades. Lemaire is a very well-credentialed coach though, the top of the field if he were to entertain a brief stop in his retirement to help out the Montreal Canadiens where he started his illustrious NHL career as a player and as a coach. However Lemaire would be the definition of a temporary hire, which is in itself not necessarily a crisis. Lemaire offers a steady hand behind the Montreal bench while a prospective future head coach could serve under him as an assistant or as the Head Coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs. Lemaire would offer time to try what the Montreal Canadiens attempted with Guy Boucher in 2009-10, arrange a successor, but without the concern of a coach with long term that blocks his ascent. However Lemaire has twice retired now and the rigors of coaching in Montreal and the travel involved might not appeal to him, regardless of how well Geoff Molson would offer to compensate him. It’s a good idea to consider, but one shouldn’t get themselves wrapped up in this being a strong probability.

Support Factor: High, Lemaire would have the local media eating out of his hand, fans would be pleased about a credentialed alumni taking over the bench with a championship to his name as well. His style wouldn’t gain him friends from those who disliked the Jacques Martin style, but Lemaire would likely gain more wins and winning does tend to quiet criticism. Issue would be raised that Lemaire isn’t a long-term solution though.

Patrick Roy

Current Post: Head Coach of the Quebec Remparts, QMJHL

Accolades: Memorial Cup Championship

Negatives: Lacks any professional coaching experience in either the NHL or the AHL. Reported to have a very volatile nature in the QMJHL.

Thoughts: My go-to thought about Patrick Roy is if this was a Hall-Of-Fame player coaching in the QMJHL who didn’t have a past with Montreal he wouldn’t get the support he is getting. Yes he’s a legend, but as a goaltender. There are many coaches who can’t export their playing talent into coaching talent. Montreal had an up-and-down run with Guy Carbonneau, Chicago was similar with Denis Savard and Phoenix did not accomplish anything with Wayne Gretzky. Roy can claim a Memorial Cup, but his overall QMJHL playoff record is debatable. Since the Remparts won the Memorial Cup, Roy’s Remparts have had playoff series defeats that ended in one sweep, three exits that occurred in five games and in the last two years, took rather inglorious exits in dropping 3-1 and than 3-0 series leads to be kicked out. Roy’s record of developing young talent has to also come into question, Quebec’s NHL alumni under Roy add up to Alexander Radulov and Marc-Edouard Vlasic and both played only a single year under Roy. Also, Roy is a legendary figure for the need for anger management. Roy is not known to be well-tempered behind his bench in Quebec and given his lack of experience with handling professional players, one might consider the Canadiens dressing room to be the most explosive in the NHL if the hire was made.

Support Factor: Average, Roy will gain a good deal of support as the media will love him for a quote and many fans will remember the goalie who backstopped the Montreal Canadiens to their last two Stanley Cups. His lack of experience will come under attack, along with a “he was hired because he’s Patrick Roy” mixed in.

Michel Therrien:

Current Post: RDS Analyst

Accolades: QMJHL Championship, 212 NHL Wins

Negatives: Unemployed since 2009, considered to have a volatile temperament during his coaching tenures in both Montreal and Pittsburgh.

Thoughts: I am honestly unsure why Therrien has had his name mentioned outside of him being bilingual. Therrien has had two very short terms behind an NHL bench before being replaced, including being fired midway through a season after he had taken the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Stanley Cup Finals. Therrien has had a fair bit of success in the QMJHL during his four years there, but outside of the Quebec league he’s struggled for any notable success. If Therrien had gone back into some lesser coaching role since being relieved of duty it would make more sense, but you have to wonder about his commitment/fitness for such a post if he seems uninterested in working in the field for three years.

Support Factor: Below Average to Poor, Therrien would have the language requirement filled out and good relationships in the French media, but soft results would have him in hot water quickly given his lack of credentials. Fans would not be too friendly to his return either.

Alain Vigneault:

Current Post: Head Coach of the Vancouver Canucks

Accolades: QMJHL Championship, Jack Adams Trophy, two 1st-place President’s Trophy finishes. 396 NHL wins

Negatives: Previous experience in Montreal may have soured him on the idea of a return. Has had not had a championship in coaching since 1988 in the Quebec Major Juniors.

Thoughts: Vigneault is the ideal hire in my view as he fills out nearly everything one is looking for in a head coach to take over the Montreal bench, but he’s a long shot. Mike Gillis just got a contract extension from Vancouver ownership and Vigneault is considered very much his man so Gillis will be looking to extend him. One should suspend the idea Vigneault would spurn a team he twice coached to 1st in the NHL for the rebuilding/retooling Montreal Canadiens as well. The only way Vigneault becomes available is if despite ownership’s vote of confidence in Gillis, they dictated that a new Head Coach must be installed, which again seems an unlikely scenario. With issues around Vigneault, it could be argued he supports the so-called Embellishment culture of the current Vancouver Canucks as well as his inability to gather any notable offence in his last two playoff series despite the talent on his roster. Vigneault’s short history with Championships and Championship opportunities is not overly desirable either. He’s likely out of reach for Montreal but he’s about the best the team could draw if he was available.

Support Factor:  High, Vigneault is an established NHL coach with a strong record in Vancouver so media and local support would be very high. There would be some derision on his exit from Vancouver but not enough for any appreciable dissent. Would get strong support from the fanbase with experience and a local man factor, but would take heat over his fall in Vancouver.


Here’s the opinion of readers from a recent All Habs Poll of the Week:

[poll id=”80″]



  1. “Groulx coached the then Hull Olympiques to the 2003 QMJHL Championship, then the following year as the team moved to Gatineau”

    Gatineau is an amalgamation of 5 municipalities – ‘old’ Gatineau, Aylmer, Buckingham, Masson-Angers, and… Hull. The team did not move, they merely changed their name to fit the new name of the city.

    Anyway, your list paints a pretty poor picture for coaching. I’d like Carbonneau in there, but I think I’d prefer him as an assistant coach. Either that or get him a great assistant, like Larry Robinson. Hartley seems okay to me, despite his time spent without a job. He coached some poor teams in Atlanta, but still managed to be above 500, although OT losses mean he had a losing record (136-118-13-24, or 136 wins, 142 losses of some kind, and 13 ties).

    I mean, the year they made the playoffs…their 4th leading scorer was Scott Mellanby, with just 36pts. Hossa, Kovalchuk and Kozlov combined for 45.9% of the teams goals. So that was either a case of 2-3 players dominating (not sure if Kozlov did, or just racked up points by playing with Hossa) or Hartley building a system that could work despite a complete lack of talent beyond three guys. If we think it’s the latter Hartley would become a decent candidate. -shrug-

  2. This is interesting.
    The two you value ‘high’ are the less likely candidates though. Lemaire said this week he won’t coach again, and Vigneault seems safe in Vancouver, for now anyway.

    I’m as puzzled as you as to why Therrien’s name keeps popping up. Our friends at l’Antichambre are selling him like crazy, but I don’t see it happening. In fact, I would rule out anyone who has been fired by Montreal in the past. Start fresh.

    I’m very happy I’m not the one making this decision.

    Great work, Robert.

    • I concur, and Therrien would be one scary choice?
      Would love to see Gallant be chosen, but politics and Molson/Savard priority #1 demand fluent french, so too bad bigotry rules the day still.

      I would not be too upset if Carbo was given another chance, better than the gong show Roy would be.
      Groulx i know nothing of, maybe but will need experianced assistants for sure.
      Hartly i have no feel for neither, but has the experiance and who knows he may be a fine choice also?
      Could Big Bird leave NJ and handle the stress?

      Of coure McTavish/Quinn/Wilson(yes i would consider ol Ronnie) would be near top of my list, but wont be considered.

    • I tried to rate how a candidate would be treated upon news of his hiring, like it or not it seems Habs will have to worry about courting public opinion the moment the new coach is hired and since the ‘guys people would love’ are longshots it leaves the team in a difficult position!

      I think Bergevin may end up going ‘off the board’ to get his man.

      • Guy Charron, 20 yeasr coaching experiance, would be an off the board choice?

        And i disagree totally that the Habs “have to” factor in public opinion, easiest route to take for sure. Only to pander to the vocal minority who boo the USA anthem or cheer when an opposing player is injured, but not the majority of Hab Fans. Just win baby.

        If that were the approach for all frachises, would Jackie Robinson ever of played MLB (i know extreme example, but to make a point)?
        Do Russians almost riot when an English coach is hired in KHL?
        Harold Ballard also had a similar opinion.

        my rant for the day.

        • I’m still not convinced Geoff Molson has the courage to go anything but bilingual in his next hire. He was the one who came out and said “Sorry Cunneyworth can’t speak French, won’t happen again.” and has spoken of nothing but bilingual hires since.

          It’s the vocal minority versus the silent majority and that’s the issue. Media can shape public opinion. Giving them 3-4 months to tee off on a HC who won’t speak the primary language of the province is not something Molson likely wants to deal with in my view.

          • 100% agree with you and understand Molson’s seemingly lack of integrity, but dosent mean i have to like it.

            Bergevin seems like he may be a good GM.

            There are lots of fine francophone coachs and no matter who is chosen, if they do well i will compliment and vise versa.

            Tis funny that i have put forth Charron’s name on several sites and get zero comment pro nor con? Was he that bad an assistant when he was with the Habs before and the numerous other NHL teams he has been behind the bench?
            Seems to do well with Kamloops team and is well spoken in interviews.


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