Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Who's the Boss?

"They have everything behind them - fans, the organization, the 100th anniversary. All they have to do is play as a team and be ready to pay the price to win." - Montreal Canadians Hall of Famer Guy Lafleur in an article today at NHL.com.

"Tell me why I don't like Mondays... I want to shoot the whole day down." - Sir Bob Geldof and the Boomtown Rats

General Manager Bob Gainey is stepping behind the bench in Montreal for the final sixteen games of the season as Head Coach Guy Carbonneau was relieved of his duties on Monday afternoon. After starting the season 10-4-2, the Habs have struggled to find consistency this year and since November 17th, they have a 25-20-5 win/loss record and find themselves in danger of falling out of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference.

Gainey met with several key players in the past few weeks, trying to get a feel for what could be ailing his team; the general consensus was a coaching change was needed. Disgruntled forward Steve Begin was traded to Dallas and Mathew Schneider was brought in from Atlanta before the trade deadline to help the struggling powerplay, but the lacklustre play continued and Gainey began contemplating his next move. After a 5-1 loss in Buffalo on deadline day, followed by a 2-0 loss in Atlanta, Gainey decided not to travel to Florida for the GM meetings and instead took a closer look at his squad.

The GM/Coach made this comment at yesterday's press conference, "We need our players to play up to their potential and that was not playing to their potential in Atlanta."

Here are a few other comments from the press conference - available at NHL.com. "In the last eight weeks our performance has been below average and I believe that a change in the direction at ice level is necessary."

"I can't say that there could be anyone here who follows this team that hasn't had this question in their mind for the past month."

With their recent play, it had become increasingly clear to Gainey that a change was needed and so Carbonneau became the 7th NHL coach to lose his job this season. A finalist last season for the Jack Adams Award for Coach of the Year, Carbonneau leaves Montreal with a 124-83-23 win/loss record and three years left on his contract. He will most likely remain with the organization but will take some time to reflect on the season before a final decision is made. Many in the Montreal media felt that Carbonneau had lost the room as early as December and his friendship with Gainey bought him some time to turn things around. When the players failed to respond, his fate was sealed.

Tonight versus the Edmonton Oilers, Gainey steps behind the bench for his 457th game as a head coach in the NHL. He has a career record of 188 wins, 205 losses, 60 ties and 3 overtime losses during his time in Minnesota, Dallas and Montreal (after firing Claude Julien during 2005-2006 season). Besides the experience that comes from a lifetime in hockey, Gainey will also be bringing Hamilton Bulldogs Head Coach Don Lever to Montreal as an assistant for what he calls "a fresh voice, some fresh opinions". Montreal radio host (Team 990) Tony Marinero commented on his show this morning, "If Don Lever has signed up for french lessons, then we'll know he's the next coach of the Canadians." Lever is well acquainted with many of the younger players as coach of the farm team and that includes his AHL playoff MVP Carey Price.

Taking a look at the larger picture, many are speculating Gainey made this move to protect his own job. If he is trying to take the pressure off himself, why step behind the bench? Could it be that in his meetings with the players he was told by some of his ten UFA's (Kovalev, Tanguay, Lang, Koivu, and Komisarek to name a few) that they would not be back next season if Carbonneau was still the coach?

On a team where Andrei Markov is the top scorer with 50 points, someone needs to step up. Goals are harder to come by in today's NHL but Montreal's last 50 goal scorer was Stephane Richer during the 1989-90 season. Perhaps now that the man offering the contracts is also handing out the ice time, the Montreal forwards will find the back of the net more often while being more responsible in their own end. Gainey attended today's practise in Montreal wearing dress pants and skates... letting everyone know who is in charge. Have a great sports day everyone.

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