“I am speechless. I am without speech.” – George Costanza
Guy Carbonneau is out as Head Coach of the Montreal Canadiens. Bob Gainey will take over, while all of the assistant coaches will remain on staff.
Speculation is that because Gainey was in Hamilton the past week, he will bring Don Lever with him behind the bench to serve in the same capacity that Carbonneau served in back in 2006. Carbonneau lasted for 230 games (two and a half seasons), accumulating a record of 124 wins – 83 losses – 23 overtime losses. Strangely enough, on October 3rd 2008, Carbonneau was signed to a 3-year contract extension and let me also remind you that it wasn't long ago that Bob Gainey admitted at a press conference that his best move this year was in fact signing coach Carbonneau to that extension. With the current economic climate, I would expect that GMs would be a little more careful when handing out long term contracts to coaches, or firing ones who are already signed long term.
Naturally, this raises a lot of eyebrows and I will attempt to answer some of the questions surrounding this strange move.
Was Carbonneau fired because he's a bad coach?
No; absolutely not. Claude Julien was fired in a similar situation, and there was speculation it was because Gainey and Julien disagreed about the handling of Cristobal Huet and Jose Theodore back in 2006. Last year, Gainey and Carbonneau disagreed on which goalie should have made the team, Gainey choosing Price while Carbonneau wanted Halak. I have a strong feeling that once again, the two are in disagreement over what to do with the goaltending situation. It was strange to see Price start the last 2 games and even though he played well, it wouldn't surprise me if that decision were forced onto the coach. Carey Price is Bob Gainey's baby, in that his reputation as a GM is riding on that draft pick. Perhaps, among other things, this was one of the major factors behind this firing.
Was the move justified?
One could make a strong case that this move was fair. A coach has a job to do, and that's getting the most out of your players, making sure players are accountable and having your team consistently at the same level. Carbonneau struggled with all three this year, as many players under achieved, certain players were not benched or scratched when it was deserved and frankly, the team has been not nearly consistent enough this year. However, it was Gainey who lost Souray two years ago and Streit last year, both integral parts of the team's powerplay. He got nothing in return and they were never adequately replaced. It was Gainey who has signed players to poor contracts, namely Jose Theodore a few years ago, Sergei Samsonov and now Georges Laraque, to name a few. It was Gainey who traded Mike Ribeiro. It was Gainey who decided to have more than 10 free agents on his roster this year, which has without a doubt contributed to the team's lack of consistency this year. Is it possible Gainey fired Carbonneau to cover up for his own shortcomings? Definitely.
This is the most intriguing question in my opinion. It is clear that the team is playing poorly even though they just won a game, but with 16 games left in a season, the timing is a little peculiar. While I believe Gainey realizes this team will not live up to the hype of Cup contenders, I think this is his last ditch effort to get the players to respond. There are no excuses anymore. Gainey sees a team like the Penguins make a similar move by replacing Therrien with Dan Bylsma, and all of a sudden the team is rolling with a new sheriff in town. The same can be said for the Ottawa Senators, who have turned things around under new head coach Cory Clouston, Craig Hartsburg's replacement. More recently, the Rangers fired Renney in favor of Tortorella, and they too are a different team. There is pressure to make the playoffs and hopefully this is the move that shakes the team up enough to guarantee them a playoff spot.
Was this about this year or the future?
It looks like this decision was more about the years to come, rather than simply this year. Carbonneau fell out of favor with a lot of the players, some of them even demanded trades, and maybe Gainey gets the feeling that if he hangs on to Carbonneau, players won't want to re-sign in Montreal, or for that matter, even come to Montreal from other teams via the UFA market. However, if that's the case, why didn't Gainey wait until the offseason? My only answer to that is that assuming Gainey is bringing in Don Lever with the intention of giving him the reigns next season, the logic is that he wants to give Lever some NHL experience before putting him in charge full time next year.
Who's the next coach of the Montreal Canadiens?
The natural choice is Don Lever. The organization is thrilled with his work in Hamilton and he has proven to be outstanding at developing young talent. With many UFAs, it is highly likely that the team will be very young next year, meaning having Lever running the bench will be good for the development of their prospects. I do agree with the people who suggest that it might be time to bring in a proven, experienced head coach. If it was my choice, I would go after Larry Robinson or Jacques Lemaire.
Who made this decision?
There are already theories out there that this move came from above Bob Gainey. While it possible, I have serious doubts about that. If, by chance, Gainey was pressured by upper management (i.e. George Gillette), I firmly believe that if he had stood by his coach, then they would have given Gainey the benefit of the doubt. This decision is on Bob Gainey, but if I were George Gillette, I would put in a phone call to my GM and ask “why did you make me give Carbonneau a 3 year extension?”.
Is Gainey's job on the line?
No, but it should be. Bob Gainey has made some bad trades, some bad signings, he did nothing at the deadline to improve his team and he can't attract top free agents. His saving grace is that his track record of drafting high-end prospects speaks for itself. Regarding this season, he put this team behind the eight ball to begin with when he decided to not negotiate with any one of his many free agents during the year. He is just as much to blame about this season as Carbonneau.
The Canadiens were not a Stanley Cup contender yesterday when Carbonneau was their coach, and they are not a Stanley Cup Contender today with Gainey as head coach. The fact of the matter is that Carbonneau was a victim of Bob Gainey's mistakes and elevated expectation levels due to the team's centennial season. He deserved better and I feel that they owed it to Carbonneau to let him ride out the season. Much like Alain Vigneault, Michel Therrien and Claude Julien before him, Guy Carbonneau will get another head coaching job, probably as soon as next year. I hope he succeeds and I wish him all the best.
About the Author
Written by Corey Krakower
I am the Director of NHL Content & Habs writer for ProSportsBlogging.com; I have spent 8 seasons behind the bench as a minor hockey coach; and I am the future GM of the Montreal Canadiens (according to my mom). I spend my days managing the Harrow Sports brand in my hometown of Montreal and I moonlight as a Hockey Advisor for Pi Athlete Management. Most importantly, I'll throw anyone under the bus for a laugh.