Thursday, May 3, 2012

Top 10 Habs Coaching Candidates

With the General Manager search having reached its conclusion with yesterday's hiring of Marc Bergevin, the new Canadiens frontman can now turn his attention to filling out his staff.  There has already been talk about Bergevin's friends and acquaintances, notably Rick Dudley and Martin Lapointe, being added to the staff, but he will also have to address the coaching situation in the coming weeks or months.  Yesterday, Randy Cunneyworth was reassigned to an Assistant Coaching role.  Randy Ladouceur remains employed as an Assistant Coach, Pierre Groulx as Goaltending Coach, and Clement Jodoin as coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs.  Any and/or all of these positions may change over the course of the off-season as the new GM evaluates his staff and how they fit into his short- and long-term plans for the club, while, as Bergevin put it, the final supporting bench staff will be determined by the new Head Coach.

With the departures of the likes of Guy Boucher and Kirk Muller, we are left looking outside the organization for coaching replacements.  Unfortunately, if we assume that being bilingual is a prerequisite, we are short on highly qualified candidates, but here are 10 who might fit the bill.

10) Denis Savard
While he may not be seen as a top candidate for head coach, don't be surprised if Savard joins the Canadiens organization in some capacity.  Savard is a Quebec native who spent most of his playing career with the Chicago Blackhawks, but also suited up for the Habs in three years, being a part of the 1993 Stanley Cup winning team (though he was hurt for much of the playoffs).  After his retirement following the 1996-97 season (with 1,196 regular season games and 1,338 points under his belt), he was made an Assistant Coach with the Hawks and remained in that role through the 2006-07 season, when he took over as Head Coach after 21 games.  Chicago failed to make the playoffs that season or the next, and as such 4 games into his third season in the role, Savard was fired from the organization.  Since that time, the Hall of Fame forward has served as a Scout and Ambassador for the organization.    Bergevin played with Savard for five seasons in Chicago and for two more years with the Tampa Bay Lightning.  Bergevin also served as Savard's Assistant Coach in 2008, with the two forming part of the Hawks' staff together for many years.  They are thus very familiar with one another, which is sure to earn Savard a look for the position if he is interested, and while he may find himself outclassed since he has at least temporarily left the coaching gig, it would be a logical conclusion to think he may factor into Bergevin's plans.

9) Bob Boughner
Boughner was also a teammate of Bergevin's for one season in Pittsburgh (2000-01) and, though young at age 41, he has established a pretty distinguished coaching resume.  He was named head coach of the OHL's Windsor Spitfires in 2006, and stayed in the role for four seasons, leading the team to OHL Championships in both 2009 and 2010.  He was recognized as the Ontario League's top coach in both 2008 and 2009, earning the same recognition for the CHL as a whole in both of those seasons.  Boughner made a leap to the NHL for the 2010-11 season as an Assistant Coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets, but decided it wasn't for him and resigned last summer citing family and business commitments in Windsor.  He returned as Head Coach of the Spitfires this season, but the club struggled, barely scraping into the playoffs before being swept in the opening round by Jarred Tinordi's London Knights.  Is Boughner, one year later, now ready to leave his hometown of Windsor?  Would the possibility of an NHL Head Coaching job woo him away?  Perhaps.

8) Clement Jodoin
Jodoin is the current coach of the Hamilton Bulldogs, before which he led the QMJHL's Lewiston MAINEiacs and then Rimouski Oceanic for four seasons.  If his name is more familiar to you than one season in the AHL would indicate, it's because he was an Assistant Coach with the Canadiens between 1997-98 and 2002-03.  He's also held jobs as a Head Coach of the Halifax Mooseheads and Halifax Citadels, and Assistant Coach of the Quebec Nordiques and Pittsburgh Penguins, going back to 1987-88.  Despite his lengthy career, Jodoin hasn't been able to lead a team to a championship, with two third round exits being his best finishes.  But he was twice named the QMJHL's Coach of the Year in 1997 and 2007, and of course is bilingual, plus has familiarity with some of the organization's younger players, so his name will come up in discussions.  He is an older guy, however, and if the signing of Bergevin and Geoff Molson's stated interest in bringing stability to the organization hold true, the team may want a more youthful coach to grow with the organization and be around long-term.  Jodoin once coached Bergevin some 30 years ago at a junior level.

7) Marc Crawford
Prior to his days as a TSN Analyst, Crawford was a successful Head Coach.  Starting in the OHL, and then moving to the AHL, where he took the St. John's Maple Leafs to the Calder Cup Finals and was named Coach of the year a season later, he became an NHL bench boss just five seasons after his playing career had ended.  Crawford first took over at the helm of the Quebec Nordiques, and despite a first round exit, became the youngest coach ever to win the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.  In his second season behind the now-Colorado Avalanche's bench, Crawford won the Stanley Cup.  He remained with the Avs for two more seasons, before moving on to coach the Vancouver Canucks for 7 years without ever making it out of the second round (including in 2003-04, when Bergevin played 9 games for Crawford's Canucks).  His coaching resume concluded with two seasons in Los Angeles and two in Dallas, with neither yielding a playoff appearance.  He was fired by the Stars just over a year ago on April 12, 2011.  Crawford speaks French and has experience, which makes him a candidate with the right credentials.  However, many see his record as troubling, claiming that anyone could have won a Cup with the stacked Avs roster of the mid-to-late '90s.  His performances following that season were far from impressive.

6) Patrick Roy
Habs fans of course need no introduction to Roy as a player, but he has already completed his seventh season as Head Coach (and Owner and General Manager) of the QMJHL's Quebec Remparts.  In his first season as coach, he led the Remparts to the Q finals, where they lost, but they got the last laugh by winning the Memorial Cup that season.  He has not since returned to the finals, but has twice reached the third round.  At age 46, he fits the bill as a young coach who could remain in the post, has matured (at least to an extent) since his playing days, knows all about what it is to be in the spotlight in Montreal, and is seen as a future NHL guy by all.  So what's the problem?  Simply put, his attitude.  Roy is self-centered and likes to hog the attention.  He has an impressive CV, but is full of himself.  In a way, he might be a coach not unlike John Tortorella in New York.  He's also tended to have off-ice distractions follow him every so often.  Could that work in the NHL?  Sure, Tortorella is a candidate for the Jack Adams this year.  But would it work in Montreal with the organizational culture and media pressures?  I have my doubts.  Especially with Bergevin's stated collaborative "no one individual is greater than the team" mantra.  Doesn't strike me as a fit.

5) Bob Hartley
Hartley has been a coach since 1991-92, when he led the QMJHL's Laval Titan.  He won a Championship with them in his second season, then moved on to be Assistant and after a year Head Coach of the AHL's Cornwall Aces.  He moved to coach the Hershey Bears in 1996-97, winning an AHL Championship in his first season there, and spent one more year with the team before jumping to the NHL as Head Coach of the Colorado Avalanche.  After third round exits in his first two seasons with the Avs, he won a Stanley Cup in 2000-01, before losing in the Conference Finals for a third year the following season. With the team off to a shaky start in 2002-03, he was fired, but quickly rebounded at the helm of the Atlanta Thrashers.  Despite being a winner at every level, Hartley's reputation took a turn for the worse in Atlanta, where while missing the post-season in his first three years, he was often accused of unethical tactics, such as sending his enforcers after certain opposing players.  The 2006-07 season had Hartley take the Thrash to the post-season for the first (and only) time in franchise history, but they were swept in four games by the New York Rangers.  He was fired early on the following season when the team lost all of its first six games.  Hartley left North America for Europe just over a year ago, signing a two year deal to coach the ZSC Lions of the Swiss league.  In his first season there, he led them to the league championship, but is said to have some form of out clause from his contract for certain NHL offers.  A true winner, but how true also are the rumours about his questionable tactics?

4) Andy Murray
Murray first became an NHL Assistant Coach in 1988-89, the first of his two seasons in Philadelphia, before two seasons in the same capacity with the Minnesota North Stars, and another two with the Winnipeg Jets.  He finally got a shot at being a head coach with the Los Angeles Kings in 1999, and led the team for six seasons, qualifying for the playoffs on three occasions.  What you may not know or remember is that when he was let go by L.A. in 2006, he was hired by the Montreal Canadiens.  Not as a coach, but as a Front Office Consultant, a role he held for just a few months before leaving to coach the St. Louis Blues, but one which meant a lot to him as he had been a Habs fan growing up.  Murray was coach of the Blues for four seasons, but only had one playoff appearance, getting the axe during the 2009-10 season.  At 61, he is beyond the ideal age for a coaching candidate as it is questionable how long-term a fixture he would be, but he remains an active head coach, currently at the bar of the CCHA's Western Michigan University club in NCAA hockey.  Murray is an experienced, long-time hockey guy, with his greatest successes coming on the international stage, having won three gold medals from the IIHF World Hockey Championships as Canada's coach in 1997, 2003, and most recently 2007.  Are his NHL days in the past?  Maybe, but if he isn't to be a head coach, if the Canadiens opt to go the inexperienced route for the man in charge, Murray's wisdom might be a welcome addition in an Assistant Coaching capacity were he interested in such a role.

3) Pascal Vincent
Vincent, a Laval, Quebec native, is young - only 40 years of age.  He became Head Coach of the QMJHL's Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in 2000 and spent 8 seasons in the position, getting as far as the third round on two occasions.  In 2008-09, after being named QMJHL Coach of the Year the season prior, he became coach of the Montreal Junior, leading the club for three seasons and coaching forward Louis Leblanc in 2010-11.  Some saw him as a candidate to move on to Hamilton as Head Coach, graduating to the AHL along with Leblanc, but instead he jumped straight to the NHL this year, joining the Winnipeg Jets staff as an Assistant Coach.  Vincent is young and inexperienced, never having played professional hockey after his days in the QMJHL, but he seems to be on a fast track to head up an NHL club in the next few seasons.  If the Canadiens want stability, then now would be their only chance to tab Vincent their man, as by the time they are again searching for a Head Coach, he is likely to be employed elsewhere.  With the right mix of experienced Assistants (see: Andy Murray), Vincent might bring a fresh and refreshing perspective to what was seen as an Old Boys' Club in Montreal just one year ago.

2) Gerard Gallant
(pictured at top)
Gallant, 48, played 615 NHL games, mostly with the Detroit Red Wings.  He was a teammate of Marc Bergevin's in 1993-94 with the Tampa Bay Lightning.  His playing career ended after the 1995-96 season, and debuted as a coach in 1999, in the Assistant role with the AHL's Louisville Panthers.  The P.E.I. native was appointed an Assistant Coach with the Columbus Blue Jackets prior to the 2001-02 season, and eventually took over Head Coach'ing duties in 2003-04.  The Jackets would fail to make the post-season that season and the next, and as such he was relieved 20 games into his third year in the role.  He became an Assistant Coach with the New York Islanders the following season, and remained for two years before jumping to the QMJHL to become a Head Coach again, at the helm of the Saint John Sea Dogs.  He lost in the finals in his first season, before winning the title and the Memorial Cup last season on a team that featured top Hab prospect Nathan Beaulieu.  Beaulieu and Gallant have returned to the Q finals with a stacked roster for a third straight season, with the series against Rimouski getting underway Friday.  Even though he has benefited from very talented teams in Saint John, many see it as a matter of time until Gallant returns to the NHL ranks.  He was named the Coach of the Year in both the Q and CHL each of the last two seasons, and as such was considered a top candidate for coach of the Ottawa Senators last summer.  Undoubtedly his name will come up in discussions once his team's season is over, but it may be a while if they win another championship (they are the favourites) and advance to the Memorial Cup.  However, despite a name that might make you think otherwise, his French is limited.

1) Alain Vigneault
Ten seasons of NHL Head Coach'ing experience, 4 of which were in Montreal, and came within 1 game of winning a Stanley Cup just one year ago.  A Jack Adams Award winner in 2006-07.  A French speaker from Quebec City.  Vigneault seems like a perfect candidate to take over the team in a return to the city that gave him his NHL Head Coaching debut after 8 years coaching in the QMJHL and 4 years as an Assistant with the Ottawa Senators.  The problem?  Well, he's still employed by the Vancouver Canucks.  Some eyebrows were raised when Vigneault did not attend the Canucks' end-of-season press conference, though GM Mike Gillis was quick to indicate it was merely his preference to do it alone, giving Vigneault a "vote of confidence."  Some compare that statement to a kiss of death, just being the politically correct statement even if a guy's days are numbered.  This is most often true when in the middle of a season, where a few more games in the wrong direction turn that "confidence" into "it was the right time to make a move."  With little to change Gillis's opinion between now and the opening of training camp, it is perhaps unlikely that Vigneault is fired, and more likely that he'll be on a short leash in October, but you never know.  If he becomes available before a new Coach is named in Montreal, he skyrockets to the top of the candidate list.


BMO HAB said...

What about Boucher and Quenville as candidates?

Dan K. said...

Like Vigneault, Boucher and Quenneville are employed elsewhere as head coaches, and I don't see either losing their jobs this summer.

I would stay away from Boucher's defensive shell system for this team, even if he were fired, however.