For the first time in a few years, the Montreal Canadiens might’ve gotten something right. It’s too early for the Boston Bruins, the defending Northeast Division champions, to start quaking in their boots. But at least there are signs that the Habs intend on staying competitive and keeping the Boston-Montreal hatred going strong into the next decade.
Today the Habs hired Jacques Martin as their new head coach after Martin resigned as general manager of the Florida Panthers. In landing Martin — who was a successful bench boss in Ottawa sandwiched between average stints in in St. Louis and as Florida’s coach — the Habs didn’t have to give up any compensation. And Montreal general manager Bob Gainey proved that, unlike his Calgary counterpart Darryl Sutter, he knows that handling GM and head coach duties is just too much to ask.
Sutter last week said that he’s searching for a new coach but that the best candidate might be himself. To me, when a GM decides to also be the coach, I always think about the old adage about someone who represents himself rather than hiring a lawyer. They say that lawyer has a fool for a client. Well, to me that GM has a fool for a coach.
So instead of a fool, the Habs hire Martin, who compiled a 341-255-96 record in nine seasons with Ottawa. In three seasons behind the Panthers’ bench, he won 110 games but never got Florida into the playoffs. Nonetheless, most signs point to him as a better coach than personnel man.
”He really gave me confidence when I was a young player. He was always great to me. It’s sad that a guy like this is leaving our organization,” Florida forward David Booth told George Richards’ On Frozen Pond blog.
Now it’s up to Martin to familiarize himself with what’s really going in Montreal. His general comments at his introductory press conference today painted a different picture of the Habs than the real-life roster.
“When you look at the players who are in the organization, there is a strong nucleus, a strong base, to build a winning team and I’m really looking forward with excitement to leading this team next year,” Martin said.
Well, Coach Martin, if by strong nucleus you mean a team that has 10 unrestricted free agents — including the team’s No. 2 defenseman, captain and leading scorer — and five restricted free agents to deal with, then you’re dead-on. Otherwise, this is a team in major flux. And there’s no telling if Martin’s presence behind the bench will be appealing to current Habs to return or for other players on the open market to head to Montreal.
Maybe Martin’s presence gives the Habs a better shot at landing former Panthers free agent defenseman Jay Bouwmeester. Or maybe it just allows the Habs to keep some combination of Mike Komisarek, Alexei Kovalev and Saku Koivu. We’ll know over the next four or five weeks what the impact will be. But right now the only verdict that can be passed is that Gainey proved he’s not foolish and just might be able to keep Montreal in the thick of things in the Eastern Conference.