Canadiens sorry about French coaching flap
Canadiens general manager Pierre Gauthier is promising there
will be a French-speaking coach behind Montreal’s bench next
Perhaps looking to head off planned protests by some Quebec
nationalist groups and an ongoing controversy in the media,
Gauthier apologized on Monday for replacing the fired Jacques
Martin with Randy Cunneyworth, the club’s first coach who doesn’t
speak French in 40 years.
”We’re disappointed and we’re sorry if we offended anybody by
hiring someone who is not bilingual right now, but when you’re in
the middle of a season and you’re trying to effect change and
you’re having the difficulties we were having, you evaluate all
your options,” said Gauthier.
”We felt the best option at this time was to work from within
the organization. Those things can be taken care of in due time,
but having a bilingual head coach of the Montreal Canadiens is very
important and it’s something that will be part of our decision
The outcry that followed Cunneyworth’s promotion to head coach,
which was front page news in Quebec, had prompted owner Geoff
Molson to issue a statement that the team agrees its coach should
speak the language of the majority of its fans and also promised a
bilingual coach for next season.
The move left Cunneyworth in an apparent lame duck position, but
Gauthier said the former player’s mental toughness and commitment
to work would see him through the season. And he did not rule out
keeping Cunneyworth, provided he learns French.
It hasn’t helped that the team is in last place with its playoff
hopes sinking fast, but Gauthier is not ready to throw in the towel
on the season just yet.
The GM wants to see how his club performs as it plays 11 of its
next 15 games at home, starting Wednesday against the Winnipeg
Jets, before he decides whether he will be a buyer or seller at the
NHL trade deadline.
The Canadiens (14-18-7) have lost seven of their last eight
games, including a 1-6-0 mark since Cunneyworth replaced Martin on
an interim basis.
Tempers also look to be frayed among the players, as defenseman
P.K. Subban and center Tomas Plekanec exchanged punches during
practice on Monday.
”Our objective now is to get back to winning and playing better
hockey,” Gauthier said. ”We’re back from a long road trip.
”Now we have 11 of the 15 next games here and we’re counting on
that to change the direction of our season.”
The Canadiens are in an 11-day stretch in which they play only
three times, all at home. It will be a prime chance for Cunneyworth
to make adjustments to a team that has been glaringly short of
cohesiveness and confidence in recent weeks.
The Canadiens prepared with a 30-minute meeting, then had a high
tempo practice followed by a half hour of work in the gym.
Gauthier rarely meets with the media, but talked on this
occasion because he could combine comments on the signing Sunday of
defenseman Josh Gorges to a $23.4 million six-year contract with
his annual midseason review.
For the general manager, the club’s troubles stem from injuries
to veterans such as Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez to sub-par
performances from some veteran players.
He didn’t name names, but team scoring leader Plekanec (29
points, -10) and sniper Michael Cammalleri (eight goals) have been
among the underachievers, while young regulars like Subban and Lars
Eller have struggled.
Gomez, Gionta and checking forward Ryan White skated on a side
rink and are expected back soon, but Gauthier said defenseman
Andrei Markov will not be back before the All-Star break at the end
of the month.
Markov, who has yet to play since signing a three-year contract
last summer, will have his reconstructed right knee evaluated by
doctors this week. Without him, the normally potent Montreal power
play has dipped to 29th in the 30-team league with a 12.8 per cent
”It’s a trickle-down effect, because there are people missing
and there are veterans not performing as they should, and now there
are extra demands placed on young players,” Gauthier said. ”And
if you’re going to count on young players to get you out of your
problems and if you’re getting into slumps, it’s going to be very
He said the team has blown a lot of leads this season due to
mistakes by individual players rather than the team’s system of
play, but added many of the mistakes are made by ”young players
that are probably overexposed.
”One problem causes another problem and another problem. So we
have a lot of work to do to turn this thing around”.
The Canadiens went 1-5-0 on their road trip to fall to eight
points out of a playoff position in the Eastern Conference, leaving
a steep hill to climb in the second half.
”Yeah we’re facing some tough times now, but we have a bright
future here,” Gorges said. ”We have some good young players
coming up and I think with the direction the team is trying to head
into, there’s only good things in the future. This is where I want
to be and where I want to stay.”