When the Montreal Canadiens fired general manager Marc Bergevin, they made a conscious decision to keep head coach Dominique Ducharme in the fold. For all intents and purposes, it was the right one.
True, Ducharme, fresh off signing a three-year extension that made him the Habs’ official head coach, hasn’t exactly overwhelmed this season. The team is now 6-16-2, placing third from last in terms of points percentage (.292) in the entire league. So, no one would have really questioned the decision had Ducharme been let go as well.
In fact, that kind of further justifies the Canadiens’ decision to move on from Bergevin, whose case to stay on wasn’t very strong in general. First, if you take away the brilliance of goalie Carey Price, who was drafted by Bob Gainey, last playoffs, the Canadiens really haven’t been a force in the league since 2016-17, when they got upset in Round 1 by the New York Rangers largely as a result of a lackluster effort.
In any case, Ducharme is Bergevin’s third head coach (Michel Therrien, Claude Julien). If it isn’t working out with Ducharme, it clearly wasn’t working out with Bergevin. If not now, how many kicks at the can would he get?
Ducharme Was Never Getting Fired This Season
Even so, realistically speaking, because Ducharme just signed the deal, he was not going to be fired this season. Owner Geoff Molson is probably against the idea of paying Ducharme, his predecessor Julien (in the last year of his five-year contract) and his eventual successor all at the same time.
Admittedly, Bergevin leaving the organization does change things. It shows Molson is able to pull the trigger when necessary (finally). It just isn’t necessary to show Ducharme the door, at least not yet. There simply is no good reason to when the playoffs aren’t in the cards this season (barring a miracle).
A new coach simply isn’t going to make much of a difference when, past American Thanksgiving, the Habs are 10 points out of the second wild-card spot, behind the Columbus Blue Jackets (who have five more games in hand). At this point, it’s arguably in the team’s best long-term interest to tank the rest of the season and try to secure a higher draft pick. Hiring a new head coach would be a surefire way to improve.
Technically, they can still get that from Ducharme. Granted, improvement in the standings would fall under the “it can only go up from here” department, but, even so, keeping him on results in one of two things:
- Either the Canadiens continue to be as bad as they are (for tanking purposes) or
- The Habs show some improvement under Ducharme down the stretch thereby reaffirming the decision to sign him.
So, there’s no real need to start a coaching search, on top of one for a new GM right now. Ultimately, the GM would have to be hired first anyway, before any definitive decision regarding Ducharme is made. Molson made that perfectly clear during his press conference announcing Bergevin’s firing/ hiring of Jeff Gorton as the Habs’ new executive vice-president of hockey operations.
That’s how it should be, or, perhaps more accurately, how it generally tends to be. A new GM would want to hire their guy. And, considering the way the season has gone, that new GM would logically want his new hire to steer clear of this tire fire of a season and bring him on only once it’s been adequately doused. Why risk staining their guy’s aura, if they’re billing him as a savior? The smart play is to keep Ducharme on as long as possible and, if they need to fire him, begin the unofficial timer on their tenure as GM then.
Bergevin Had to Go Now, Not Ducharme
So, Ducharme logically stays on at least for the balance of the season. Make no mistake though, Ducharme is coaching for his job at this point and, regardless of how good of a job he does, it may not even matter in the end.
Ducharme definitely hasn’t had a good follow-up season to his rookie campaign. No one can debate that, but it’s hard to lay all the blame at his doorstep when Bergevin put the team he’s coaching together, complete with its lack of a mobile defense and depth down the middle.
Ducharme is hardly blameless, but in an ideal world he would get a decent amount of time in the new regime to prove himself. The trip to the Stanley Cup Final should earn him the benefit of the doubt in some respects. In Bergevin’s case, following arguably his worst offseason as GM, it wasn’t enough after middling regular-season performances year after year (regardless of the coach in charge).
It was the right time, arguably a few years too late in all honesty, for the Canadiens to move on, even if only because the Habs would want someone with more of a long-term future in the organization at the helm ahead of the trade deadline. This was Bergevin’s last year under contract, and, based on the team’s performance, an extension would have run counter to general public sentiment and common sense. Extending a GM with his team in the running for a lottery pick is akin to buying a carton of expired milk. Ducharme may be just as easy of a target, but he wasn’t the right one, at least not right now.
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After 10 years of writing hockey, Ryan decided it was as good a time as any to actually join The Hockey Writers for the 2014-15 season. Having appeared as a guest on such programs as CBC Radio One’s Daybreak, Ryan has also written for the Montreal Gazette and Bleacher Report and worked for the NHL itself and his hometown Montreal Canadiens. He currently writes about all things Habs for THW, with it being a career highlight for him to have covered the 2021 Stanley Cup Final as a credentialed member of the press.