Tuesday, May 8, 2012

10 More Head Coaching Candidates

Last week, I presented my personal top 10 candidates for the Canadiens' head coaching vacancy.  There have been some updates since, with some readers asking why I left off name X, Y, or Z, and the addition of one new potential candidate still employed by another team.  Plus we found out yesterday that Mike Gillis was extended as GM in Vancouver, which likely rules out my number 1 hope, his head coach Alain Vigneault, at least for the time being.  So today, here are 10 names (in no particular order) that weren't on my initial list, with a brief profile, and why they were initially excluded.

1. Joel Quenneville

As I discussed yesterday, Elliot Friedman indicated on CBC that GM Marc Bergevin may inquire with his old club about the availability of Quenneville, who has one year remaining on his contract in Chicago.  It seems Quenneville and Hawks' GM Stan Bowman don't always see eye to eye, and even many Blackhawk fans seem to have little patience left with him.  If he is relieved of his duties following two years of first round exits, the 53 year old would be a strong candidate for the opening in Montreal.  He understands some French and can speak a few words, having gone to French school in Windsor, Ontario growing up.  He has 15 years experience as an NHL head coach, split between St. Louis, Colorado, and Chicago, where he won a Stanley Cup in 2010.  His playoff record isn't stellar otherwise, but the man perhaps most famous for his moustache would be a far safer pick than an experienced rookie coach out of the QMJHL.  He was left of the list initially as I didn't believe he'd be available, but it now seems like there is a chance.

UPDATE: A report with quotes from Chicago GM Stan Bowman today indicated that Quenneville is expected to be back in Chicago next year.  So let's replace him on the list with someone else to keep it at 10 eligible candidates.

1. Benoit Groulx

Groulx, 44, is seen as one of the QMJHL's coaching stars and a future NHL exec.  He has been a Head Coach for 10 seasons and won three league Q titles - one with the Hull Olympiques and 2 after the club relocated to Gatineau.  He moved to the AHL for two years to coach the Rochester Americans, but then returned to Gatineau in 2010, taking his team to the Finals in his first year back.  Things weren't as peachy this season, as his regular season record was a paltry 26-32-10, and the Olympiques were swept in the first round.

2. Michel Therrien

Therrien only had one full season as a head coach in Montreal, taking over 20 games into 2000-01, a year the team missed the playoffs, making the second round of the post-season the year after, and then being fired 46 games into his third season behind the bench.  He came to Montreal with no NHL experience, having coached 5 years in the QMJHL and 3 in the AHL.  After his stint with the Canadiens, he returned to the AHL for 2 and a half seasons before getting another look, this time as coach of the Pittsburgh Penguins, which lasted for four seasons, including a trip to the Stanley Cup finals.  However, he has been out of coaching since 2008-09, currently a scout for the Minnesota Wild.  His style doesn't seem to mesh well with a change in direction in Montreal, as he smiles about as often as Jacques Martin and is similarly criticized for not encouraging aggressive enough play.

3. Guy Carbonneau

Carbonneau was another rookie Coach given his big shot in Montreal, first as an Assistant Coach, and then as Head Coach for just under three full seasons.  After missing the post-season in his first year behind the bench, he took the Habs to the second round in 2007-08, and was fired 66 games into 2008-09 when he couldn't stop a slide despite his team's 35-24-7 record at that point.  Aside from stepping in for 15 games to coach the team he owns, the QMJHL's Chicoutimi Saguineens, last year, he hasn't gained any experience since leaving Montreal, spending his time primarily as an RDS analyst.  Carbo faced a lot of criticism in Montreal, including not having strong enough control over his players and locker room, particularly when it came to dealing with off-ice distractions, something critical in a market like Montreal.  Perhaps the biggest flaw many saw in him were regularly illogical line combinations, with many players often asked to play out of position.  Like many have advised Pierre McGuire if he wants to be a GM, if Carbonneau wants to be an NHL Head Coach, he should get out of broadcasting and get back to working at some level - an Assistant Coach, a junior Coach, and AHL Coach... anything.

4. Guy Boucher

Boucher was left off the list because he is also currently employed, and I have my doubts that Tampa Bay will fire him after just two seasons, one of which produced a run to the third round of the playoffs, but it's a subject that has been discussed in the media.  Boucher is young and inexperienced, with just three years Head Coach'ing in the Q, 1 in Hamilton, and 2 with the Lightning under his belt, but is seen as an up-and-comer in some circles.  Still, even if he were available, I wouldn't want him.  His sit-back defensive style has been widely criticized, and is the opposite of what most Hab fans foresee and hope for the team.  It certainly doesn't fall in line with the kind of system Bergevin watched in Chicago.  Boucher is an intelligent hockey person, but seems to coach like the guy at #5 on the list did before him, and thus is unlikely to implement the kind of approach the team will take.

5. Jacques Lemaire

I've seen Lemarie's name brought up by a number of people, and rightfully so with a Stanley Cup ring and 2 Jack Adams Awards to his name.  Lemaire has been an NHL head coach for 17 seasons, 2 of which were in Montreal... back in 1983!  The reasons for him not being a fit are easy to rattle off: at age 66, does he really represent stability for the organization?  Like Boucher, will he continue to preach the defensive shell system that earned him respect and success as a coach?  If so, is that really what Montreal needs?  Are his tactics too outdated for today's NHL?  What about the fact that despite his successes, in 17 years, he has missed the playoffs 7 times and lost in the first round another 4?  Lemaire has had a great run as a bench boss, but it is probably that it came to an end when he was pushed aside by the New Jersey Devils during the 2010-11 season.  If he hopes to coach again, it won't be in Montreal.

6. Larry Robinson

Robinson is currently an Assistant Coach with the Devils, contributing to their run in this year's playoffs.  He has served as New Jersey's Head Coach on a few occasions, totaling 173 games in the role between 1999 and 2006.  Before that, he was Head Coach of the Los Angeles Kings for four seasons, from 1995 through 1999.  The legendary Hab defenseman sounds like an ideal candidate, except that he has in past stepped down from a Head Coach'ing job citing that the pressure and responsibility was too much for him; more than he wanted to take on at that stage.  There is no position in hockey (or perhaps in sports) with more pressure than the Head Coach of the Montreal Canadiens, so I don't see him as a fit.  If he wants a change of scenery, he could make a great Assistant Coach responsible for the defensemen, something fans have been hoping for over the past many years, but it is unlikely he'd leave New Jersey for such an opportunity at this time.

7. Ted Nolan

Nolan, 54, is an interesting story.  He once seemed on the rise towards coaching glory, with 5 years experience as Coach of the OHL's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds earning him a job as an Assistant with the Hartford Whalers in 1994.  The next season, the Buffalo Sabres made him their head coach, and in his second year there, he took the team to the second round of the playoffs, winning the Jack Adams for his troubles.  Yet, something was amiss.  His relationship with GM John Muckler and his team's only real star player, Dominik Hasek, was strained, particularly during the playoffs where he refused to protect an injured Hasek from media criticism, leading to a messy altercation.  The off-ice issues led to Muckler being replaced by Darcy Regier that off-season, and Regier didn't want to commit long-term or overpay Nolan given the situation he was walking into, so Nolan opted to leave the club.  He would also turn down a couple of other offers that summer and the next, but was then out of the coaching game until 2005.  This is truly remarkable for a guy coming off being named Coach of the Year, and speculated reasons included racism against his aboriginal roots and a reputation as being difficult for a GM to work with.  He took over the Moncton Wildcats in the QMJHL for the 05-06 season and led them to a championship, earning him a shot as Head Coach of the New York Islanders the following year.  He lasted only two season there, however, and then moved on to be VP of Hockey Operations for the AHL's Rochester Americans.  Finally, he re-entered the coaching game once again a year ago, but this time overseas, as Head Coach for Latvia's National Mens team (meaning he's currently at the IIHF World Hockey Championship).  Will he ever be back in the NHL?  It's certainly possible.  But a city with as much media scrutiny and off-ice pressure as Montreal isn't right for him.

8. Jim Playfair

Playfair, 47, was a teammate of Marc Beregvin's in 1987-88 with both the Saginaw Hawks and Chicago Blackhawks.  While Playfair didn't have a long NHL career, he has gained experience as a Head Coach, moving from the ECHL to the IHL, then the AHL, where he won a championship in his first season behind the bench of the Saint John Flames in 2000-01.  He remained there for 2 more years before joining Calgary as an Assistant Coach, and then for one season as Head Coach in 2006-07, before being demoted to an Associate Coaching role despite qualifying for the playoffs.  Wanting to be a Head Coach again, he returned to the AHL with the Abbotsford Heat in 2009, but after two years there, sought a new opportunity this season as an Associate Coach with the Phoenix Coyotes, playing a part in their current run.  He seems to be well qualified to lead an NHL club again someday, but is Montreal right for him?  He is known to have a hot temper, which everyone witnessed during an Abbotsford game against the Hamilton Bulldogs, when following a penalty call with which he vehemently disagreed, he began yelling and breaking players' sticks over the bench, throwing his suit jacket to the ground.  For the same reason that I have my doubts about Patrick Roy in this city, I'm also unconvinced that Playfair's temperament would work.  And I'm not sure that the Fort St. James, B.C. native is fluent in French either.

9. John Stevens

Stevens, 46, also played with Bergevin, between 1990 and 1992 with the Hartford Whalers and Springfield Indians.  After two years as an Assistant Coach with the AHL's Philadelphia Phantoms, Stevens became their Head Coach in 2000-01, and remained as such for 6 seasons, winning an AHL championship in 2005. He moved to the NHL as an Assistant and soon thereafter Head Coach with Philadelphia, which is his stint that most will remember him from, leading the Flyers for 3 seasons before being replaced 26 games into his fourth.  He rebounded the following season as an Assistant Coach in Los Angeles, which is where he remains today, a part of the Kings' current playoff drive.  He has one year remaining on his contract with the Kings, but if Montreal were to offer him a Head Coach'ing position, they might be able to negotiate his transfer.  Stevens is a native of New Brunswick, and I'm doubtful of his mastery of la Langue Moliere, and that might be his downfall.  But the Habs did interview unilingual anglophones for the GM job after all.

10.  Jacques Martin

No, this is not a joke.  It is a fact that, of bilingual and available NHL coaches - heck of all available NHL coaches - Jacques Martin has the best and most current resume.  With the exception of 2008-09 and the lockout season, he has been an NHL Head Coach every year since 1995-96, and missed the playoffs only in his first NHL season and his three in Florida (not counting this year in Montreal).  Of course, Martin won't return.  First, Geoff Molson would never allow such a ridiculous move of bringing back a guy he oversaw the firing of a few months ago just because a new General Manager is in place.  Next, he still isn't the right fit in Montreal.  The team's new GM stresses communication, which is one of Martin's biggest weaknesses.  He rides veterans on a team that will be integrating many young players.  And his playoff record is far from stellar - five first round exits with Ottawa, and only two trips to the third round (including 2010 with the Habs).  I've heard his name come up from some fans though, so had to include him on this list.


Anonymous said...

Love the idea of Martin coming back. His professionalism and hockey system are still what this team needs to be successful in the short and long term. Also intrigued about the possibility of Coach Q. If we go with fresh meat i'd like to see Pascal Vincent get the call.

Robert L said...

Jesus, I scrolled down this list and me and my dog were nowhere to be found.

Marcel P said...

We need a coach with passion, emotion, and grit.
Who on this list fits that description?

Dan K. said...

Of the list, Playfair and Stevens fit the bill, but the fact that both likely speak no French at all will hold them back.

Benoit Groulx is an option as well, though inexperienced.

From my first top 10, Bob Hartley and Patrick Roy are emotional and passionate guys to lead a team, for better or for worse.

Toccodolce said...

What about Jacques Beaulieu? He's bilingual. He's been a success everywhere he's been to: the London Knights (as an assistant coach0 from 2000-2006, coach and gm at St. John Sea Dogs from 2006-2009 and 2010-present with the Sarnia Sting.

howard said...

One thing to remember about Beaulieu. His son, Nathan, will hopefully be with the Habs before too long. In his autobiography, Jean Beliveau wrote that he advised Irving Grundman against hiring Bernie Geoffrion as coach in 1979, with one of the reasons being that his son, Danny, was on the team. Le Gros Bill said "It's difficult for a coach to have a son or brother on the team. He's got enough to worry about as it is".