Saturday, December 17, 2011

Canadiens Fire Jacques Martin

The Montreal Canadiens have fired head coach Jacques Martin, as first reported by Dave Stubbs on Twitter.

Randy Cunneyworth, an assistant coach brought up to Montreal after head coaching the Hamilton Bulldogs last season, will take over as interim head coach until the end of the season. This is a wise move as there aren't many candidates currently available, and thus it will allow the team to perform an extensive search to find the best possible candidate to lead the team beyond this season. It is interesting, though, since Cunneyworth doesn't speak French and it has long been thought that language was a pre-requisite for the bench boss job.

Cunneyworth, 50, is a veteran of 866 NHL games as a player, split between the Buffalo Sabres, Pittsburgh Penguins, Winnipeg Jets, Hartford Whalers, Chicago Blackhawks, and Ottawa Senators. He was the head coach of the AHL's Rochester Americans between 2000-01 and 2007-08 before spending two seasons as an assistant coach with the Atlanta Thrashers.

Anyone who has been following this site will know I'm not exactly disappointed or surprised by this news. It was a matter of time and a necessary change in philosophy for the players.

In a strange move of shuffling personnel, assistant GM Larry Carriere will step behind the bench as an assistant coach to fill the vacancy. Carriere was named Gauthier's assistant last summer, but has no experience in pro coaching. He does speak French, however, so he will be able to address the media on Cunneyworth's behalf. Let's hope that's not an indication that Martin will take over as assistant GM, as he did not have a great record managing personnel with the Florida Panthers. Though there have been signs this season of disagreement between Pierre Gauthier and Martin, meaning having them work together seems like an unlikely scenario.

Here is a summary of some of the major things said at today's press conference from Gauthier and Cunneyworth:

Pierre Gauthier - It was a very difficult decision. I have a good and long-standing relationship with Mr. Martin, but it's something we've been looking at for a few weeks.
- Even when we were picking up points, we'd look at the performance at the end of the game and see we didn't play well. The results seemed predictable, especially with our third periods. Mr. Martin was doing a great job, but sometimes it's best for the organization to bring in new approaches and ideas in order to improve.
- For the moment, Mr. Cunneyworth can't speak French, but that can change. Languages can be learned. We did an external coaching search. There is a need to win now. But we felt we had a good team internally to get it done.
- Larry Carriere is an experienced hockey person who has a relationship with Mr. Cunneyworth going back to the Buffalo Sabres organization. He brings a fresh perspective to the bench.
- Mr. Cunneyworth is interim right now because during the season, we evaluate mainly short-term needs. The rest will be re-evaluated in the off-season.
- I appreciate Mr. Molson's support in this decision. There is never a right or wrong time. As hard and dramatic as today is, it's a game day, and we get right back to business.
- Like I told the players, we ALL (including me) have responsibility for where we are right now. It's a team game. Individual poor performances can be linked to the overall group.

Randy Cunneyworth - I'm proud to be offered this job. I know I'll have plenty of help from a great staff. It's an honour to be the coach of this team.
- My message will be that players have to get back to doing the things they're capable of. We need to get more out of individual players. It has a lot to do about execution. All players have to be on board as a team instead of trying to do things on their own. In terms of communication, my role is to make players understand more of what's expected from them. We need to get players to reach their potential and these expectations.
- I hope my coaching style is similar to the way I played. It's important our team competes in all areas and that everyone is involved.
- One of our biggest assets is our speed. We're not the biggest team, but we move the puck well. I ask players to play to that.
- Players jobs are to go out and take care of their own responsibilities. But they're also part of a team, and as such, they must be accountable.
- I haven't thought through taking lessons or anything yet, but I will do my best to keep improving my French. I'm Canadian, so I took some in school. Being exposed to conversations in all of our meetings, you can't help but learn some.


So, why was Jacques Martin fired? He's not entirely incompetent at the job, but he was not a good fit for this team. Martin is a veteran's coach, and one with an old school defensive style. It's not the right fit for a young, skilled, puck-moving team like the Canadiens.

I've documented many of his faults this season in a number of articles:

- "But... I Can Change" (December 16)

But perhaps his biggest foul this season has been the way he has handled the press at times. No coach in the league has been quicker to jump to blame his players for losses, calling them out by name on a regular basis. And yet it was always the team's rookies and youngest players who were singled out, as opposed to the struggling veterans being paid to lead this team but failing to do so.

Habs fans can only hope that some players were waiting on a move like this. That a change in coach will spark the team more than, say, Kirk Muller has in Carolina. Time will tell. But either way, if you ask me, this is a good day for the future of the club.

Player reactions, courtesy of Hockey Inside/Out:

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