The Montreal Canadiens making Dominique Ducharme head coach was a mere formality. There really was about as much as doubt as the sun coming up in the morning, especially after the Habs made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, ultimately losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games.
Ducharme Leads Canadiens Through Adversity
There had admittedly been some doubt prior to the Canadiens clinching a playoff spot, as they were the team with the least amount of points to do so. That goes for the future of general manager Marc Bergevin with the Habs, as well.
However, the Canadiens were forced into NHL COVID-19 protocol, having to play 25 games in 43 nights as a result, suffering slew of injuries to key players down the stretch. So, logically speaking after the Habs simply clinched a playoff berth, Bergevin was going to be safe, even had the Canadiens failed to claw back from a 3-1 series deficit against the Toronto Maple Leafs all the way back in the first round. And, if Bergevin was going to be safe, so too was Ducharme.
After all, Bergevin called Ducharme “his guy”, at the time of his hiring, even if he was getting stuck with the interim tag for the time being. Seeing as Bergevin had already hired and let Michel Therrien and Claude Julien go (as his previous guys), it was inherently unlikely that he was ever going to replace Ducharme, even if the rookie head coach didn’t officially have the title yet.
Ducharme Gets Extension
Now that Ducharme has put ink to paper on a three-year extension and the team has removed the “interim” tag, he’s even less likely to be going anywhere for the foreseeable future, not that that’s necessarily a bad thing. With the Canadiens having defied the odds to beat the Leafs, Winnipeg Jets and then the Golden Knights to reach the Final, Ducharme earned his extension the old-fashioned way, through on-ice accomplishments.
Questions undeniably still remain though. While the Canadiens were able to hold on for dear life to the final playoff spot in the North Division on the strength of a 5-0-2 start to the season (going 10-13-2 in those 25 games in 43 nights), it’s hard to predict how they would have fared in a reformed Atlantic Division with the Lightning, Leafs, Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers. Furthermore, even after Ducharme had replaced Julien and before the final 25 games of the season, the Canadiens struggled to find consistency, going 5-3-5. Part of that has to be attributed to the players having to learn a new system, but how much?
Everyone has claimed the Habs were built primarily for the playoffs (with accompanying success therein to prove it). However, there isn’t nearly as much evidence to suggest the Canadiens will ride the wave of momentum they’ve built up over their Stanley Cup Final run to enjoy regular-season success in 2021-22, especially in a harder division (on paper).
Ducharme Aces Prolonged Job Interview
Regardless, while those concerns are perfectly legitimate, at this point they’re nitpicky all the same. It’s hard to conceive of a precedent in which, after taking a team all the way to a Stanley Cup Final, an interim head coach isn’t rewarded. For example, the St. Louis Blues promoted interim head coach Craig Berube soon after the 2019 Stanley Cup Final.
Granted, Berube won it all and Ducharme didn’t, but the point stands that, if not Ducharme, who? It would have to be someone else, a coach that didn’t just take a team to the Stanley Cup Final. I mean, Jon Cooper’s probably spoken for, but, even if he wasn’t, what are the chances he speaks French fluently?
Ultimately, Ducharme just had one of the longest job interviews on record and he passed with flying colors. It doesn’t necessarily mean he’s the right man for the job, but he is undeniably the best candidate out there. He’s earned a shot to prove himself on a non-interim basis.
There really is no good reason to pass on Ducharme at this juncture… or his staff, with assistant coach Luke Richardson having been re-signed himself a day later. Talking to the media, Richardson, who successfully took over Ducharme’s bench-boss duties for parts of the third and fourth rounds while the latter was in quarantine, made it sound as though it was only a matter of time before fellow-assistant Alex Burrows’ expiring deal gets re-upped as well.
“I think there’s a great energy between [Ducharme, Burrows, and myself]… I think we have a good relationship both hockey and outside of hockey, all three of us and [director of goaltending Sean Burke] too,” Richardson said. “I think just moving forward we want to run on this energy we’ve created.”
Burrows’ hypothetical signing seems like yet another inevitability as well. Considering the single day between the two previous announcements, maybe once the sun comes up on Thursday. A successful upcoming regular season is undeniably a bigger question mark, but, this way, it at least won’t come as a shock.
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.