When Bob Gainey announced on February 8th that he was stepping down as vice-president and general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, club president Pierre Boivin sat next to him and proudly announced that every stone had been overturned in a league-wide review of available candidates and after this comprehensive endeavor, the best candidate was here the whole time in then assistant GM, Pierre Gauthier.
Of course, when one is looking for qualified front-office personnel the good ones tend to be employed until the season ends but no matter, Pierre Boivin chose not to name Pierre Gauthier interim GM, signing him instead to a multi-year contract of unknown length and unknown dollars. He also proudly reminded everyone present at the press conference that being able to speak french was and is a mandatory requirement of the job and in doing so, reminded many at the time and many more since that one candidate was indeed available for hire though temporarily involved with the Canadian Olympic team, Steve Yzerman.
Sadly, Yzerman was never even considered a candidate by the Montreal Canadiens on the sole basis that he didn’t speak french, a mandatory requirement that’s a result of the Habs self-imposed martyrdom ever since the Quiet Revolution gave birth to Quebec Nationalism. So, yet again the Habs committed themselves to hire from the shallow end of the talent pool, which by mid-season looked more like an evaporating watering hole on the Serengeti desert. No wonder an in-house solution was found.
Just four months later, Boivin realized that the man he should have hired as the new general manager of the Montreal Canadiens had made a run at the heir apparent to Jacques Martin, Guy Boucher in an attempt to lure him to Tampa Bay with an even offer better than the one Columbus had made just 72 hours earlier. Boucher wanted the weekend to decide which was the telltale sign that other offers were coming in and that club president, Pierre Boivin still had time to make the moves necessary to keep their priced possession.
The only way the Habs could keep Boucher, other than pipedream wishful thinking scenarios was to move Jacques Martin upstairs to the still vacant assistant GM position, a move that a few in the Montreal media considered “sacking” which is a curious claim given that Martin would be promoted to the front office of the Montreal Canadiens with the same remaining length and dollars still honored on his contract. Of course, how could Martin possibly be bumped upstairs after the unlikeliest of playoff runs that brought the Habs to within 3 wins of their first appearance in a Stanley Cup final since 1993? It’s an easy decision had the President of the Montreal Canadiens taken the long view.
The long view? The sort of forecasting NHL team presidents and general managers do every year when they consider front office decisions and player transactions that will affect a team for years to come. So, what’s the long view on current Habs Coach, Jacques Martin? History has shown that he won’t last another 3 years before the Canadiens will be forced to replace him anyway. In fact, you’d have to go all the way back to Pat Burns (1988-1992) for the last Habs coach that lasted 4 years. And just like Guy Boucher, he ran the Canadiens AHL team and was well respected even though he had no NHL experience.
So, knowing that the Canadiens will likely to forced to fire Martin in less than 2 years and possibly even sooner had the Habs not gotten an overtime loss point in Game 82 AND seen Jaroslav Halak and Mike Cammalleri almost single-handedly produce back-to-back upsets of historic proportions. Why couldn’t Pierre Boivin take the long view and do what’s best for the Montreal Canadiens, knowing that the only variable is when he’d have to make the change anyway? More importantly, why wouldn’t he?
Guy Boucher was still in-house… and wanted to be here. Rival GMs were fighting over him which should have been all the confirmation Boivin needed had a shred of doubt remained on his ability to become a successful NHL head coach. Instead Pierre Boivin chose to do nothing and Guy Boucher left with reports that his Hamilton Bulldog assistant coaches are going with him. A decapitation of the Montreal Canadiens top farm team with signs the blood-loss isn’t over.
There were rumours on Twitter last night regarding Habs defensive coach, Perry Pearn and his possible departure to the WHL and the Edmonton Journal confirmed it this morning with an article suggesting that Pearn may be on his way to coach the WHL’s Edmonton Oil Kings. Asked if he’d been interviewed, Perry Pearn is quoted in the article as saying with a laugh, “I would rather not say”. That to the uninitiated means he’s interviewed for the position.
Then we have Habs assistant coach Kirk Muller, who by most accounts was more responsible for the Canadiens playoff success than head coach Jacques Martin. Anyone who kept an eye on the bench, especially as the games were on the line could see Muller at work while Martin, more often than not was statuesque with his arms folded muttering “Fuck me” under his breath each time he saw something he didn’t like on the ice. Martin did outcoach his Washington Capitals rival, Bruce Boudreau in Round 1 but by the time the Habs were finally eliminated by Philadelphia in Round 3 it was clear that much of the credit should go to Muller.
And now there’s a very real chance the Habs could lose Kirk Muller as well. He may be offered the Hamilton head coaching position but there are many who don’t feel he needs time in the AHL to show he’s ready for an opportunity to take on a larger role elsewhere. He'll never be offered the head coaching position in Montreal solely because of language, talent be damned so he's come as far as he can with the Canadiens.
So here we are. Steve Yzerman, the man who should have been the next general manager of the Montreal Canadiens, if only they stopped their ridiculous hiring criteria of language over talent going off to become GM of the Tampa Bay Lightning, only to return and lure away the team’s priced coaching asset, Guy Boucher and his entire staff. When Jacques Martin is fired before his term is complete and if/when Guy Boucher’s team knocks the Habs out of a playoff spot, Pierre Boivin can look back at what could have been if only he’d had vision. Shakespeare would be proud but indeed, karma’s a bitch.