No one can perfectly predict how Joel Bouchard will work out as the new head coach of the Montreal Canadiens’ minor-league team, the Laval Rocket. But, as one of the top candidates, if the not the absolute best, Bouchard being signed is an undeniably good move. Habs general manager Marc Bergevin deserves credit as a result.
Bouchard the Only Option
To a degree, it’s like Bouchard was the only option. For the second consecutive season this year, he led the Blainville-Boisbriand Armada to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League final (only to fall short). This past year, the Armada also had the best regular-season record, with an 11-point cushion between them and the second-seeded Acadie-Bathurst Titan (who are now playing for the Memorial Cup). The fact that Boisbriand borders Laval and that he is likely already familiar with the community (and is recognizable by the community) is another plus.
This will be Bouchard’s first time in the professional ranks (as a coach), so there is some risk it won’t work out. After six years of Bouchard’s predecessor, Sylvain Lefebvre, though, during which the Habs’ affiliate made the playoffs only once (one game won), any improvement there would end up justifying the move. Seeing as Lefebvre never had head-coaching experience at any level prior to his time in the Canadiens organization, Bouchard is already an upgrade. And coaching farmhands is the next logical career move upward from coaching draft-eligible kids.
Bouchard in Good Company
For all his success in that capacity, Bouchard recently won his second Ron Lapointe Trophy as the best coach in the QMJHL (2014-15). While it doesn’t necessarily translate to wins at the American Hockey League level, past winners include Pascal Vincent (2007-08), who was just named coach of the year there for his work behind the bench of the Manitoba Moose, the Winnipeg Jets’ affiliate.
Much more impressive? Las Vegas Golden Knights head coach Gerard Gallant won it two years in a row from 2009-11 and could be on his way to winning the NHL equivalent, the Jack Adams Trophy.
Of note, Gallant served as an assistant with the Canadiens himself for two seasons before leaving for greener pastures to coach the Florida Panthers. While Gallant was unceremoniously fired there in 2016-17, he had led them to a playoff berth for the first time in four seasons the year before. He obviously has a chance to accomplish something far more significant with his current team as we speak.
It wasn’t the first time the Habs signed a previous winner, either. For example, Clement Jodoin, who also won it twice, has had multiple stints as a Habs assistant. Dominique Ducharme (2012-13) was also just snatched up by the Habs to assist head coach Claude Julien. All three (Jodoin, Ducharme and Gallant) have also won the Brian Kilrea Coach of the Year Award as the best in the entire Canadian Hockey League.
Julien or Bergevin’s Heir Apparent?
Perhaps Michel Therrien is the most significant past Ron Lapointe winner (1994-95) from the perspective of a Habs fan. While his name will no doubt evoke mixed feelings, his success in the AHL is undeniable, as he made the playoffs each year he coached, with exception to in 2000-01, when he was “called up” by the Canadiens mid-season after Alain Vigneault had been fired, and in 2005-06, when the same thing happened and he replaced Ed Olczyk with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Now, obviously, Therrien left something to be desired during his time with the Habs, but there’s no need to worry about Bouchard in that regard. If anything, Ducharme seems as though he’s the heir apparent to Julien, because you don’t snatch up the last Canadian World Juniors hockey team head coach (one silver, one gold) just to remain an assistant. Bouchard, who has also served as president and general manager (and owner) of the Armada, assembled those two teams as their GM too.
As such, it’s more likely Bergevin just hired his own successor than he did Julien’s. Now, obviously, Bergevin’s not going to step down right away and it’s unrealistic that Bouchard would be able to step in and replace him at any point in the near future, even if Bergevin does get fired.
Still, Bergevin potentially developing a managerial pipeline (after starting to develop a coaching one with the Ducharme hiring) is admirable. The next phase would be improving the prospect pipeline and player development.
All these moves should only have positive ramifications for the organization moving forward, making Bergevin’s job easier. Of course, it may be another general manager who ends up reaping the benefits, considering the projected timeline here. As such, Bergevin deserves some measure of credit.
Who knows whether that next GM will be Bouchard or not? He may not even work out as the Rocket’s head coach, but he at least has the credentials to, and, for the first time in a long time, Bergevin is putting the team’s best foot forward, its best interests ahead of his own and looking at the big picture. That he wouldn’t was a legitimate concern after the team’s nightmarish 2017-18 season.
It’s obviously a long road ahead back to respectability for the organization, but at least the steps are in the right direction.