Top Candidates for the Montreal Canadiens Head Coach Position

Now that the Montreal Canadiens have named Marc Bergevin as their new general manager, the organization will turn its focus on finding the right candidate to replace interim head coach Randy Cunneyworth, who has been assigned back to assistant duties after taking over Jacques Martin last December.

Bergevin already mentioned that the next Canadiens bench boss will need to be fluent in English as well as in French, so the list of potential candidates is essentially very short. The new head coach will most likely have experience as a head coach in the NHL and will need to be a proven winner. A renowned and storied franchise, the Montreal Canadiens will need to select the right man for the job as Cunneyworth and his predecessor Jacques Martin failed to lead the team to the Stanley Cup finals in the past few years despite the unexpected long playoff run of the Canadiens in 2009-10 when they reached the Eastern Conference final after upsetting the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins both in seven games.

In the meantime, Rick Dudley, now working with the Toronto Maple Leafs under Brian Burke, is set to leave Toronto after the 2012 NHL Entry Draft to become the assistant general manager of Bergevin as the two of them are close friends.

This season the Canadiens finished dead last in the Eastern Conference following a series of bad decisions and a rash of long-term injuries to key players such as Brian Gionta and Andrei Markov. As a result, the team will have the 3rd overall draft pick at the 2012 NHL Entry Draft that will be held in Pittsburgh this June.

Below you will find a list of potential candidates in alphabetical order:

Marc Crawford

Now an analyst for TSN, Crawford broke into the NHL as the head coach of the Quebec Nordiques in 1994-95, earning the Jack Adams Trophy for best coach of the year and winning his first and only Stanley Cup the next year as a member of the Colorado Avalanche. After two successful campaigns as the Avalanche head coach, Crawford accepted a new challenge with the Vancouver Canucks where he coached for seven seasons, but failed to lead the team to the second round of the playoffs. There, Bergevin played nine games under Crawford in the 2003-04 season. He then coached two years in Los Angeles with the Kings and two more in Dallas with the Stars before being relieved of his duties in April 2011. Born in Belleville, Ontario, Crawford is fluent in French as he learned to speak it when he was hired to be the Nordiques’ bench boss 18 years ago.

Crawford, 51, was also in the middle of the Bertuzzi-Moore incident. During a March 8, 2004, game, Todd Bertuzzi grabbed Steve Moore from behind, and rode him into the ice, causing Moore to suffer 3 broken vertebrae, multiple facial lacerations, and ultimately ending his career. In the ensuing commotion, while Moore was lying on the ice, Crawford was allegedly laughing at the situation.

Hartley is a leading candidate for the head coach position

Bob Hartley

Another former Colorado Avalanche head coach from 1998 to 2002, Hartley, 51 won the Stanley Cup with the Avs in 2000–01. After five seasons at the helm of team, he was fired 31 games into 2002-03 campaign. He quickly found another job with the Atlanta Thrashers the same year, where he coached until the beginning of 2007 season, when he was fired after the Thrashers got off to an 0–6 start. Before he accepted a two-year contract to coach the ZSC Lions in Zurich in the summer of 2011, Hartley had a successful career as a hockey analyst for the French-language RDS TV channel, TSN‘s sister channel. In his first season in Switzerland, he led his team to the league championship, but it is rumored that Hartley has an out-clause in his contract that would allow him to accept NHL offers. Hartley possesses the experienced needed to coach a team in Montreal, where the media pressure is much higher than it was in Colorado and Atlanta. It is also reported that Hartley is a serious candidate to the Calgary Flames head coach position.

Benoit Groulx

Currently coaching the Gatineau Olympiques of the QMJHL, Groulx is a dark-horse candidate as he might be ready to make the jump to the NHL after spending two seasons in the AHL with the Rochester Americans from 2008-2010. Groulx also took the Olympiques to the Memorial Cup in 2003, 2004 and 2008, before making the transition to the AHL. However, two years later he returned to Gatineau after an early playoff exit with Rochester. The emotional Groulx is a long-shot at the moment for the position and it’s highly improbable that Bergevin would pick him as the next Habs head coach. But should Patrick Roy be named Montreal’s head coach, Groulx could become one of his assistants as Roy approached him a month ago to offer him a bench position should he graduate to the NHL.

Joel Quenneville

Currently the head coach of the Chicago Blackhawks, Quenneville, 53, is a close friend of Bergevin, who recommended him for the position in October 2008, replacing Denis Savard at the helm of the team. Coach Q had coached Bergevin in St. Louis at the end of the 90s. With one year remaining to his current contract in the windy city, it has been reported by Elliot Friedman of the CBC that Hawks GM Stan Bowman has given the permission to Bergevin to talk to Quenneville about a possible move to Montreal since Bowman and Coach Q don’t go along very well, especially after this Spring’s first round exit against the league-owned Phoenix Coyotes. The native of Windsor, Ontario, who has more than fifteen years of experience as an NHL head coach and has won a Stanley Cup ring in 2009-10 with the Hawks, is certainly considered a quality candidate at this point. While the former NHL defenceman doesn’t speak French, he understands most of it and is able to say some words in French. Finally, I am certain he would not mind polishing his French during the summer to accept this notorious position in the hockey hot-bed that is Montreal.

Roy is a serious candidate to become the next Habs head coach

Patrick Roy

The former NHL goaltender won the Stanley Cup four times with the Montreal Canadiens and the Colorado Avalanche. A close friend of Serge Savard, Roy is currently managing and coaching the Quebec Remparts of the QMJHL and his son Frederic. Also a native of Sainte-Foy, Quebec, Roy is obviously bilingual and has played for a decade with the Canadiens before asking to be traded following an incident with head coach Mario Tremblay back in the 1995-96 season. A very hot-headed and vocal head coach, Roy doesn’t have any experience at the NHL level as a head coach. While some experts believe Roy is a serious candidate to replace Gauthier, I would believe that Bergevin will lean towards a more experienced head coach to run the ship he just embarked on. Roy, 46, is very popular in Quebec among the fans and the media, but will Bergevin have the guts to name a rookie head coach to lead a young and rebuilding team back into playoff contention? I have my doubts about it.

Michel Therrien

When Michel Therrien replaced Alain Vigneault as the Canadiens head coach in 2000-01 he had no coaching experience in the NHL. A former AHL-defenceman, Therrien had coached five years in the QMJHL and three years in the AHL prior to joining the Canadiens. Therrien, 48, lasted only two and a half seasons at the helm of the Bleu Blanc Rouge before being fired by Andre Savard in 2002-03. Following his firing, Therrien returned to the AHL where he coached the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins before being named the Pittsburgh Penguins head coach midway through the 2005-06 season to replace Eddie Olczyk. Therrien, lasted four seasons in Pittsburgh, leading the team to the Stanley Cup finals in 2007-08 against the Detroit Red Wings. Unfortunately for Therrien, the team lost the series and he then lost his job in the subsequent year after a poor start. Dan Bylsma took over and led the team to a Stanley Cup win that Spring, leaving a bitter taste in Therrien’s mouth. The native of Montreal is now employed for RDS as a hockey analyst.

Alain Vigneault

Currently employed by the Vancouver Canucks, Vigneault, who will turn 41 in one week, boasts ten seasons as an NHL head coach, four of which were in Montreal about ten years ago. Despite the early first round exit earlier this Spring, Vigneault and the Canucks came within one game of winning a Stanley Cup in 2011-12.  With Mike Gillis announcing that he will return next season, Vigneault, a Jack Adams Award winner in 2006-07, has a much better chance of returning as the team’s head coach now that the GM who gave him a vote of confidence at the end-of-season press conference will be back. A French speaker from Quebec City, Vigneault, if let go, would not have any problems finding a new job, whether it is in Montreal or elsewhere thanks to his success with the Canucks in recent years.

Pascal Vincent

Vincent, a native of Laval, Quebec, became head coach of the QMJHL’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles in 2000 and spent eight seasons in the position before being named the coach of the Montreal Junior (the team is now defunct), leading the club for three seasons and coaching Habs forward Louis Leblanc in 2010-11. Vincent, 40, joined the Winnipeg Jets staff as an assistant coach when the Atlanta Thrashers moved to Winnipeg last season. The young and inexperienced Vincent will need a few seasons as an assistant coach before taking the reigns of an NHL team. If the Canadiens are looking to hire a rookie coach, they are most likely going to pick Roy instead of Vincent, as Roy is a former Hab who is used to face the day-to-day media frenzy surrounding the Bleu Blanc Rouge. While Vincent might bring a fresh and refreshing perspective as how to coach an NHL team, he will most likely make the transition to a head coach position a few years from now.

Other potential candidates: Bob Boughner, Gerard Gallant, Larry Robinson, Clement Jodoin, Paul Maurice

Who would you like as the Canadiens’ next head coach?

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  • Ryanjohnston

    Bring back Carbo!!!!!!

  • Fred Poulin

    Vigneault, who had one year left to his current contract, signed a two-year contract extension with the Canucks yesterday, so we can also cross him off the list.

  • Richard

    Why are the Canadians not considering  Guy Carbonneau???

    • Fred Poulin

      Why would they re-hire a coach they fired only a few years ago?

      • Ryanjohnston

         Because it was that Ego-Maniac Gainey that made that dumb mistake by firing a fantastic coach like carbo.

  • MontrealSports

    Part of the problem with the Habs has been turning quality young players into stars! Bob Hartley helped develop the careers of many would be stars in Colorado and then Atlanta while also winning Conference Championships, a Stanley Cup and in Atlanta, he turned a struggling franchise into a serious contender. In addition, while I do not believe speaking french should be a requirement I do believe it is a serious advantage in this province! Bob Hartley is a french analyst on RDS which, while I have not personally seen his commentary, tells me he is probably very bilingual!

    In conclusion, 1. He has helped develop raw talent into some of the best players in the league, 2. He has had success with multiple franchises and 3. He is a respected, bilingual person in this province.

    What more could a Habs fan want?

    • Fred Poulin

      Hartley coached in Switzerland this winter and he helped his team win the championship. I can confirm that Hartley is very fluent in French as he’s a native of Hawkesbury, a French town located in Eastern Ontario. He’s my choice among the above candidates.

    • Dedricthere

      Bob Hartley has an english name but he’s first and foremost a French Canadian. He even has a slight French Canadian accent in english.

      • Fred Poulin

        His real name is Robert pronounced “Ro-Ber”, so yes he’s very French :) 

  • Fred Poulin

    Quenneville just confirmed that he is not a candidate for the job Montreal. Coach Q will be back with the Hawks next season; however, he gets to pick his assistants and he chose to fire Mike Haviland.