March 09, 2009
Let The Patrick Roy To Montreal Rumours Begin
Bob Gainey made the toughest decision of his tenure in Montreal yesterday. He fired his own protege, his long time teammate and his close friend, Guy Carbonneau. There may be no more like-minded coach/GM combo in the game.
The move was surprising in that one close friend felt he had to throw the other friend under the bus, especially here in the Canadiens centennial season. Carbonneau is one of Montreal's great foot soldiers over the years, first as a player and as a coach. To be made to walk the plank for a disastrous anniversary season will sit well in history's eyes.
It is also surprising in that Montreal had just come off a victory, and were 5-2 in the past 7 games, perhaps righting the ship after a real tough stretch. Goalie Carey Price seems to be back on track, as is the power play following the arrival of Mathieu Schneider. Overall Carbonneau's record in Montreal was 124-83-23, and was described by Gainey as his "best acquisition."
At the same time this firing should come as no surprise. A few weeks back it was Gainey who ordered moody captain Alexei Kovalev to stay home and rethink his role on the team.
Some say the Kovalev situation is just the tip of the ice berg. Georges Laraque, Mathieu Dandenault and the recently departed Steve Begin, all Francophones, were all vocal in their displeasure with the coach.
Carbonneau, a coach of the year award finalist just last season, lost the room, never a good situation. And for all his line juggling, Carbo could not find the answers.
Gainey obviously felt he had to step in, probably for a couple of reasons.
Firstly, he is hoping to salvage the centennial season with a magical playoff. At the time of the firing the Canadiens were just two points up on the 9th place team in the East.
Secondly, he wants a first hand evaluation of his team and players. He faces a significant overhaul this summer, with 10 regulars, including most of his top players, reaching unrestricted free agency. Only 6 forwards, 4 defensemen and both goalies are signed for next season.
What better way to determine who is worth keeping and who to get rid of than by being in the room and on the bench with them.
Lever Being Groomed?
Gainey also announced that Hamilton Bulldogs head coach Don Lever will join him behind the bench. Lever, a top coach in the minor leagues for a long time now, has first hand experience with many of the Canadiens younger players.
This will lead many to suspect Don Lever is being groomed to take over next season as the new head coach of the Montreal Canadiens. It is highly unlikely that Gainey will continue to coach beyond the balance of this season.
But that begs the question - would Montreal hire an English-only speaking coach? They have not had an English only coach since the glory days of Scotty Bowman. (I'm pretty certain Bob Berry, a Montreal native, was bilingual.)
Lever is an excellent coach, and deserves an NHL shot somewhere. But, as Dennis Kane told me, "an English speaking-only coach in Montreal would be fed to the lions. If Lever is being groomed, he'd better take some quick French lessons."
Assistant coach Kirk Muller, another Anglophone, could also be on the list of candidates. Doug Jarvis, another assistant coach, seems happy to forever remain as an assistant.
And there certainly are more English coaches available compared to French coaches. That is just fact based upon population advantages.
But to hire a coach who is unable to speak French in Montreal would be sacrilegious. The notoriously tabloid French media would be out for blood.
It won't be long before the French media will be championing Patrick Roy as the next coach of the Montreal Canadiens.
It would take a very special coach to quiet the French media, with no one, short of the return ofBowman himself, able to step in without controversy.
There is only one way an English-only coach could survive in Montreal - deliver the Stanley Cup.
Update: Lowetide has by far the best Bob Gainey picture for today's news.