Habs Head Coaching Top Candidates

Wanted: NHL head coach. Team: Montreal Canadiens. Duties include: Dealing with some veterans at the tail end of their career, some newer mid-range veterans and many young but talented prospects coming up. Coping and toying with shark-like attitude media base on a daily basis. Qualifications: Being able to handle the often unreasonable media and fan base who think they know more than the coach on any and every aspects of the game, in spite of not having a resume to back up their claims. Must speak French. Salary: to be negotiated, based on experience. Faint of heart need not to apply.

When the Montreal Canadiens make a decision on their next head coach at the end of this season, the ad might must look like what’s up above. Many are questioning if General Manager Marc Bergevin will be the one making the decision to remove the title of Interim off Dominique Ducharme‘s title or if team President Geoff Molson will also be advertising for a new GM. With the Canadiens’ odds of making the playoffs (legitimately this time) sitting at over 95%, it is my sincere opinion that Bergevin will be there again next year. In fact, don’t be surprised if he’s extended too. In spite of some hiccups due to a very unusual COVID-filled season, he has done an outstanding job since the summer of 2018, his reset.

Top Candidates

Let’s get something clear before we start: as Bergevin stated, the job is Ducharme’s to win or lose. So if he does well, chances are that the point of this whole article is moot. I’m writing it solely to show that it’s not the bilingual candidates or quality lacking, nothing more. So… The list of good coaching candidates is getting longer as the season progresses. Of course, the very first decision for Bergevin when it comes to his head coaching position will be to decide if he wants to pursue interviews for the position or simply give it to Ducharme.

Dominique Ducharme (Interim-coach – Montreal Canadiens)

  • Brian Kilrea Coach of the Year Award (CHL) 2012-13
  • Assistant coach for the Canada Under-18 National Team at the 2013 Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament.
  • Head coach for Canada 2017 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships (Silver medal)
  • Head coach for Canada 2018 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships (Gold medal)

I feel like Ducharme is taking way too much abuse and uncalled for criticism. Based on how and when he inherited the team, the extremely busy schedule with little practice time, the team going under the NHL’s COVID protocol (without practicing) and the even tighter schedule thereafter… then add the injuries to key players. He’s been handed more than any coach has in a long time in Montreal. Yet, his team is this close to qualifying for the playoffs. He will be in consideration for the position even if it displeases the crowds.

Joël Bouchard (Laval Rocket)

  • General Manager for Canada 2017 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships (Silver medal)
  • General Manager for Canada 2018 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships (Gold medal)

I love Bouchard, I really do. I think he’s doing an outstanding job in Laval and he genuinely seems to be enjoying his role in the organisation. But if a team came calling with a head coaching or management position, what would he say? For that reason, he needs to be in discussions if the Canadiens decided to go with someone other than Ducharme as head coach i Montreal. Ideally, he stays in that position for another season as many excellent prospects are starting to turn pro.

Bob Hartley (OMSK Avangard – KHL)

  • Gagarin Cup – 2021
  • Jack Adams Trophy – 2015
  • Stanley Cup – 2001
  • Calder Cup – 1997
  • NLA champion – 2012

Back in 2012, Hartley was one of the top candidates for the job in Montreal and was interviewed by Bergevin. The Calgary Flames were also searching for a head coach and then GM Jay Feaster was a good friend of Hartley, who is the Godfather of one of Feaster’s kids. The Calgary GM put the heat on his friend to get an answer and as the Habs weren’t done with their selection process, Hartley picked the Flames. He just won the Gagarin Cup and is talking retirement soon. Could a last chance to coach the Canadiens be tempting? I think so.

Alain Vigneault (Philadelphia Flyers)

  • Brian Kilrea Coach of the Year Award (QMJHL) – 1988
  • Jack Adams Award winner (NHL coach of the year) – 2007
  • Named a co-coach for the 58th National Hockey League All-Star Game – 2011
  • Vancouver Canucks all-time winningest coach – 313

At the time of writing this, Vigneault is still head coach of in Philly but with the team missing the playoffs, many feel like he’ll be without a job soon after the season. Like Julien, Therrien and a few others, Montreal gave him his first chance in the NHL and he’s not the same coach Habs’ fans remember. I’ve seen him adapt to different styles here in Vancouver. He definitely should be a strong candidate.

Guy Boucher (analyst on RDS)

  • Assistant-coach for Canada U-18 in 2006, 2007 and 2008
  • Assistant-coach for Canada U-20 in 2009 (Gold medal)
  • 2009 AHL Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award (coach of the year – Hamilton Bulldogs)
  • 2015 Swiss Cup Championship (SC Bern)
  • 2015 Team Canada Head coach Spengler Cup (Gold medal)

Boucher is a brilliant hockey mind. However, for some reasons, his lifespan in every organisation is a short one. Early success, the things go sideways in a hurry. For that reason, I don’t see him as a strong head coach candidate in Montreal. But as an assistant-coach? One would be hard-pressed to convince me that he wouldn’t be a great asset to the organisation. What does HE want, however?

Pascal Vincent (Manitoba Moose)

  • 2018 AHL most outstanding coach award

Vincent is a long shot. He’s another French Canadian coach that the Habs could consider giving a chance to, if they chose to go with someone with no NHL experience. He’s young, pro-active, modern and would know how to handle the young prospects coming up… too much like Ducharme? Perhaps. He should receive a phone call for an interview regardless.

Benoit Groulx (Syracuse Crunch)

  • Ron Lapointe Trophy – QMJHL Coach of the Year 2003–04
  • AHL All-Star Game North Division Coach 2016–17, 2018–19

Much like Vincent, Groulx would be a relatively inexperienced project worth interviewing. He has graduated from the QMJHL to the AHL and he’s likely a guy who will be looked at for a NHL job sooner than later. Could it be with the Habs? Time will tell. For now, it seems like there are stronger candidates available ahead of him.

To stay away

Fans (and some media members) have this infatuation with their childhood heroes, thinking that they can bring the same skills set as head coaches as they did as players. It’s often not the case folks. In fact, some of the best coaches weren’t the most talented players, for whom success came from their immense talent and instinct on the ice. The best coaches are often those who had to think the game, analyse it and apply systems in order to be successful and keep their jobs in the NHL. Wayne Gretzky never could make it as a coach.

The first guy the Canadiens need to keep as far away from a power position on the team is Patrick Roy. The guy is black-listed in the NHL for a reason. He’s a selfish, self-serving, vindictive and revengeful individual who has quit on his team not once, but twice. There are many more red flags with him too.

Now we’re reading some media and fans wanting Alex Kovalev as head coach. Please. Can you imagine Kovalev going to a player asking him to be consistent or to put in the effort? What kind of credibility would he have, after making a career of loafing and showing up every three games? And while Kovalev is bilingual, Russian is not French.

I love Gerard Gallant but as it’s been said many times, he does not speak French in spite of his name. Could he be an assistant-coach? Would he accept the job? It might be worth enquiring. You can kick, scream, cry and have a temper tantrum all you want, you’ll be the one looking bad as whether you agree or not, being able to speak the Molière language is a prerequisite for the position. And it’s not like they’re narrowing the selection as much as some people think.

Personal preference

Bob Hartley

This is only an opinion, and mine isn’t better than yours. As shown above, there are plenty of very good coaching candidates to interview if Bergevin wants to. Perhaps more this off-season than there has been in the last few years.

If not Ducharme, I would like to see Bob Hartley given a chance as head coach. While I appreciate the Habs being the driving force in giving French Canadians their first kick at becoming NHL coaches, we’re getting to a point where experience is needed in order to get the team to the next step. That being said, Hartley is old school and with today’s players, you need some more modern approach with the young guys.

For those reasons, there are two guys I’d love to see join the team as assistant-coaches: Guy Boucher for his tactics and sports psychology, and Gerard Gallant for his experience and great hockey knowledge. Keep Alex Burrows as well. So you’d have Hartley and Gallant with many years of experience, supported by Boucher and Burrows. That, in my opinion, would be a very strong and complete team behind the bench, and a good mix.

The plan?

By the way, it is my belief that the Canadiens have a plan for the men in place. Call it a gut feeling, nothing more, nothing less. But I can definitely see Mr. Molson eventually creating a position like many teams have for a President, Hockey Operations and that position being filled by none other than… Marc Bergevin. For that reason, I also believe that the organisation has been grooming Joël Bouchard to become the next Canadiens’ GM, which is why he has had more responsibilities with the Laval Rocket since the departure of Larry Carrière. This, in my humble opinion, is something that would happen at the end of next season, in the summer of 2022. Are you with me? But first, let’s win a playoffs’ round or two, shall we? Go Habs Go!

Julien Out, Ducharme In: One Man’s Loss Is Another Man’s Gain

French Speaking Coaches: An In-Depth Look

A Patrick Roy Hiring Would Be The Last Drop

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